Former Family Court judge disbarred
The Hawaii Supreme Court has disbarred a former Family Court judge, finding "a pattern of deliberate misconduct" that led to disciplinary action for eight previous ethics violations.
The court removed Richard Y.S. Lee, 58, from practicing law and ordered him to return all unearned retainers and files to his clients by Oct. 31.
Lee told the Star-Bulletin last year that he had turned over his law practice to his daughter to devote time to his new business, a penthouse club at Century Center, which closed months later because of complaints from other tenants in the high-rise.
The Supreme Court issued a statement yesterday saying it disbarred Lee for inserting a provision in his attorney-client agreements to penalize the clients if they filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The high court's action was recommended seven months ago by the ODC board, which investigates complaints of lawyer misconduct.
The Supreme Court decision said people who hired Lee were required to promise to submit any fee dispute to binding arbitration, and to pay Lee $2,000 in damages if the ODC became involved before the dispute was settled.
That requirement, which applied to agreements with about 100 clients between January 2002 and December 2003, violates Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct, according to the high court decision. The disciplinary office investigation determined that Lee kept the provision in retainer agreements for more than a year after the ODC instructed him to remove it.
Lee could not be reached for comment yesterday.
At a February hearing, he told the ODC board that the agency's interference in fee disputes is unwarranted and amounts to price fixing. A frequent critic of the disciplinary office, he said then "I'm perturbed at the system. I feel I'm a victim of it."
The Supreme Court decision said Lee had been disciplined in eight prior instances since 1996, when he was reprimanded for violating ethics rules in a child-custody case he handled. The court cited other factors leading to its decision including "a dishonest and selfish motive ... a pattern of deliberate misconduct ... refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of respondent Lee's misconduct."
Justices Paula Nakayama and Simeon Acoba dissented from the decision. They favored a five-year suspension from law practice.
In 2003, a former client won a malpractice and deceptive trade practices lawsuit against Lee. He was ordered to pay $184,000. He appealed the jury decision.
In 2001, Lee came in fourth in a special election for the Manoa-Makiki-Moiliili City Council seat vacated by Andy Mirikitani because of his conviction in a kickback and extortion scheme.
Lee was appointed a state judge in 1979 and served in the position through 1986.
He ran Waikiki cabarets from 1986 to 1990, including Richey Rich's in the Ilikai Hotel and Power Station on Kuhio Avenue, according to Honolulu Liquor Commission records.
Admitted to the Hawaii bar in 1973, Lee is a graduate of Punahou School, Stanford University and Hastings School of Law.