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Friday, July 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State Supreme Court orders Grant County lawyer disbarred

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Washington Supreme Court has ordered the disbarment of Guillermo Romero, a former public defender in Grant County who requested and received payment from clients he was supposed to represent for free.

In its ruling yesterday, the court upheld a Washington State Bar's disciplinary board decision to disbar Romero. He had appealed, asking for a two-year suspension.

Disbarment was appropriate, Justice Tom Chambers wrote in the court's unanimous decision, "because of the depth and breadth of his misconduct and the cumulative weight of numerous aggravating factors."

The disbarment is effective immediately.

The bar's disciplinary board said Romero's misconduct spanned six years and involved seven clients. The board found that, among other things, Romero had asked for and received money from one client's mother to represent her son and asked another mother to pay for an investigator and mental-health expert for her son's defense.

Romero also told a migrant farmworker that he could travel to Mexico, although the Mexican national's bail conditions prohibited him from leaving the country, the bar association said.

And Romero failed to timely file personal tax returns for four years — owing approximately $150,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. It only was after the bar association launched its disciplinary investigation that Romero filed returns for three of the four years.

Romero, who works as a victim-witness coordinator in the Grant County Prosecutor's Office, was not available for comment.

A Seattle Times investigation published in April showed how Romero repeatedly failed court-appointed clients and how reviewing courts twice had ruled that he was incompetent as a lawyer — but how county officials kept hiring him anyway. Romero worked as a public defender for more than eight years and represented about 1,000 defendants.

Romero is the second Grant County public defender to be disbarred in the last two months for soliciting money from court-appointed clients. The Supreme Court ordered Thomas J. Earl, who also was profiled in the Seattle Times investigation, disbarred on May 6.

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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