Hunter Biden’s Ethical Woes

Published: 3 July 2024

NEW AUTHORITY: Hunter Biden’s Ethical Woes

Author: Dr. Michael H. Hoeflich

This article is featured in Volume 5, Number 6 of the Legal Ethics and Malpractice Reporter.

The news recently has been full of Hunter Biden’s legal troubles. A federal district court in Delaware has now convicted him of firearm charges. He has denied these charges, and his lawyer has stated quite clearly that he will appeal the convictions. Days after this guilty jury verdict, however, Hunter was “immediately suspended” from the practice of law by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Many lawyers outside the District of Columbia may wonder why such a rapid suspension of his D.C. law license followed his conviction in Delaware.

First, like most American jurisdictions, the District of Columbia courts and bar retain the right to act on criminal convictions and disciplinary sanctions other jurisdictions have imposed on a lawyer. Second, like other jurisdictions, the D.C. code of professional responsibility considers it a disciplinary violation when a lawyer is convicted of a crime. But the District of Columbia’s Code of Professional Responsibility also specifies that the Court has an immediate responsibility to act when a member of the bar is convicted of a crime, even before a full disciplinary investigation and hearing has been conducted.

In the order suspending Hunter Biden, the D.C. Court of Appeals stated:

On consideration of an accurate copy of the indictment and jury verdict form filed in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware demonstrating that the respondent was found guilty of three felony counts and it appearing that the offenses are “serious crimes” as defined by D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 10(b), it is

ORDERED, pursuant to D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 10(c), that the respondent is suspended immediately from the practice of law in the District of Columbia pending resolution of this matter, and the Board on Professional Responsibility is directed to institute a formal proceeding to determine the nature of the offense and whether it involves moral turpitude within the meaning of D.C. Code § 11-2503(a)…

FURTHER ORDERED that Disciplinary Counsel shall inform the court if the matter is resolved without the necessity of further court action.

As the order indicates, the key to the immediate suspension order resides in the text of D. C. Bar Rule XI Sec. 10:

Section 10. Disciplinary Proceedings Based Upon Conviction of Crime

(a) Notification. If an attorney is found guilty of a crime or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a criminal charge in a District of Columbia court, the clerk of that court shall, within ten days from the date of such finding or plea, transmit to this Court and to Disciplinary Counsel a certified copy of the court record or docket entry of the finding or plea. Disciplinary Counsel shall forward the certified copy to the Board. Upon learning that the certified copy has not been timely transmitted by the clerk of the court in which the finding or plea was made, or that an attorney has been found guilty of a crime or has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to a criminal charge in a court outside the District of Columbia or in any federal court, Disciplinary Counsel shall promptly obtain a certified copy of the court record or docket entry of the finding or plea and transmit it to this Court and to the Board. The attorney shall also file with this Court and the Board, within ten days from the date of such finding or plea, a certified copy of the court record or docket entry of the finding or plea.

(b) Serious crimes. The term “serious crime” shall include (1) any felony, and (2) any other crime a necessary element of which, as determined by the statutory or common law definition of such crime, involves improper conduct as an attorney, interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, willful failure to file income tax returns, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, or an attempt or a conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit a “serious crime.”

(c) Action by the Court—Serious crimes. Upon the filing with this Court of a certified copy of the record or docket entry demonstrating that an attorney has been found guilty of a serious crime or has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of serious crime, the Court shall enter an order immediately suspending the attorney, notwithstanding the pendency of an appeal, if any, pending final disposition of a disciplinary proceeding to be commenced promptly by the Board. Upon good cause shown, the Court may set aside such order of suspension when it appears in the interest of justice to do so.

(d) Action by the BoardSerious crimes. Upon receipt of a certified copy of a court record demonstrating that an attorney has been found guilty of a serious crime or has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of serious crime, or any crime that appears to be a serious crime as defined in subsection (b) of this section, Disciplinary Counsel shall initiate a formal proceeding in which the sole issue to be determined shall be the nature of the final discipline to be imposed. However, if the Court determines under subsection (c) of this section that the crime is not a serious crime, the proceeding shall go forward on any charges under the Rules of Professional Conduct that Disciplinary Counsel may institute. A disciplinary proceeding under this subsection may proceed through the Hearing Committee to the Board, and the Board may hold such hearings and receive such briefs and other documents as it deems appropriate.

Although having one’s law license suspended immediately upon a criminal conviction despite the existence of any pending appeals may seem draconian, the rules that govern every member of the District of Columbia Bar require it.


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