Lee showed how not to practice law
The state Supreme Court has disbarred former Family Court Judge Richard Y.S. Lee because of ethics violations.
THE collapse of a legal career that began two decades ago reached the final thud with the disbarment of Richard Y.S. Lee. The state Supreme Court has voided the license of the 58-year-old former family court judge because of ethics violations. The action should signal to other lawyers that they cannot run roughshod over the legal system.
As a family court judge, Lee installed a telephone in his chambers to take calls for his sideline accounting business until he was told by the chief justice to disconnect it. At the same time, he ran two Waikiki night clubs, one of which was called HELL and was advertised with leather-and-chain-clad women holding whips.
Hawaii's code of judicial conduct forbids judges from engaging in private business. The Judicial Selection Commission rejected the second six-year term Lee sought in 1985.
In his subsequent private practice, Lee included a provision in retainer agreements with 160 clients since 2002 that was designed to intimidate and penalize them if they complained to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The provision required clients to submit any fee dispute to binding arbitration and to pay Lee $2,000 if the ODC became involved.
At a hearing last February, Lee said, "I'm perturbed by the system. I feel I'm a victim of it."
That assertion was preposterous. Lee was an embarrassment to the Judiciary and then to the private practice of law. In disbarring him, the Supreme Court cited factors including "a dishonest and selfish motive," "a pattern of deliberate misconduct" and "refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature" of his misconduct.
Lee told the Star-Bulletin last year that he had turned over his law practice to his daughter. His new business, a penthouse club at Century Center, was closed months later because of noise complaints by other tenants in the high-rise.
Doctor-assisted suicide tests new high court
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about whether to overturn Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide.
THE first indication of how President Bush's choices for the U.S. Supreme Court might affect future decisions might soon become apparent. Overturning of Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide would signal a troublesome turn to the right, favoring personal views about social policy over judicial philosophy that includes protection of states' rights.
The court heard arguments this week about Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, which allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of medicine when requested by a terminally ill and mentally alert Oregon resident diagnosed as having less than six months to live. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft absurdly contended that the law violates the federal 1971 Controlled Substances Act, which was intended to combat drug trafficking and abuse.
When the court upheld Washington state's ban on assisted suicide eight years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor explained that safeguarding of such "liberty interests" should be entrusted to the "laboratory" of states. O'Connor voted in the minority and the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist cast minority votes earlier this year to uphold California's medical marijuana law.
New Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked questions in the Oregon arguments that some observers found to be skeptical of the assisted-suicide law and supportive of federal authority. When Robert M. Atkinson, an Oregon assistant attorney general, asserted that Congress enacted the 1971 law with the understanding that states had long been responsible for regulating medical practices, Robert remarked that Congress "did not anticipate assisted suicide in 1971."
Not surprisingly, O'Connor seemed to support the Oregon law. However, she will not vote on the issue if Bush nominee Harriet Miers is confirmed as an associate justice before the court is ready to issue its opinion in the case. In that event, the case might indicate the leanings of both Roberts and Miers.