Whistle-blowing attorney gets 6-month suspension
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A lawyer who exposed a shady deal between a former client and a Pierce County judge has been suspended from practicing law for six months.
In a 6-3 ruling yesterday, the state Supreme Court found Tacoma lawyer Douglas Schafer guilty of violating his client's confidentiality.
"We cannot tolerate for a moment ... any disloyalty on the part of a lawyer to his client," Justice Bobbe Bridge said in the court's written opinion. "In all things he must be true to that trust, or, failing it, he must leave the profession."
Although Schafer did the public a favor in exposing the corrupt judge, the court wrote, he broke the law in revealing information provided to him by his client, businessman William Hamilton.
"It's profoundly disappointing. I expected more," Schafer said. "The ruling virtually ensures that no lawyer ever again will reveal a client's kickback, bribe or other criminal conspiracy involving a sitting judge."
In 1992, Hamilton asked Schafer to set up a corporation to purchase a bowling alley from the estate of Charles Hoffman, represented by Grant Anderson. Hamilton told Schafer that Anderson, then in private law practice, had been "milking" Hoffman's estate for four years.
Schafer set up the corporation. A few years later, he found himself on the losing end of an unrelated case before Anderson, who by then had become a Pierce County Superior Court judge.
On the day of Anderson's ruling, Schafer copied the court file for the Hoffman estate and began investigating the matter. Bridge wrote he "became obsessed" with the judge as he revealed his findings to the state Bar Association, the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the FBI and the media.
The commission's investigation eventually concluded that Anderson cheated the beneficiaries of the Hoffman estate by selling Hamilton the bowling alley for a bargain price. In return, Hamilton made $31,185 in secret payments on Anderson's Cadillac.
In 1999, the state Supreme Court removed Anderson from the bench, making him the first Superior Court judge in state history removed for ethics violations.
Meanwhile, the state Bar Association suspended Anderson's law license for two years. No criminal charges were brought against the judge or Hamilton. Anderson is now back in practice.
Bridge wrote that while the court applauded Schafer's research to reveal Anderson's misconduct, it did not condone his "unnecessary revelation" of client confidences in the process.
If the information could be used to prevent a crime, there is a provision in state law to break attorney-client privilege, said Judy Berrett, director of member and community relations with the state Bar Association. But the provision can't be applied to past crimes, she said.
Though Schafer maintains his motive for revealing his client's information was purely to oust a corrupt judge, the court found that his motivation was in part a personal vendetta over his courtroom clash with Anderson.
Schafer blasted Bridge for taking personal shots at him.
That's maligning the messenger, Schafer said, adding "maybe she had too many drinks when she was writing this."
Bridge was recently charged with drunken driving. Last month, she was granted deferred prosecution on condition that she attend an alcohol-treatment program and abstain from alcohol or drugs.
Supreme Court visiting Justice Robert Winsor wrote that a six-month suspension for Schafer was too harsh. He proposed a 30-day suspension instead.
Schafer said he has not had time to think about his professional future, but might write a book or get a custodian job to pay the bills.
"I'm just at a loss that everyone is so meek and so unwilling to say this has got to stop," Schafer said. "And society pays the price."
Justices voting in favor of the suspension were Bridge, Charles Smith, Faith Ireland, Tom Chambers, Susan Owens and visiting Justice Karen Goodman Seinfeld. Those against were Winsor, Barbara Madsen and visiting Justice Faye Kennedy.