Judge: Woodruff can apply for reinstatement after 6 months

ATTORNEY Stephen C. Woodruff, who was disbarred to practice law in the District Court for the NMI, will be allowed to apply for reinstatement after six months, according to Designated Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood in her order modifying discipline.

She also suspended the lawyer for a period of one year from the date of her order on March 28, 2018.

But the judge gave Woodruff permission to resume representation in pending cases, in which he was the attorney of record at the time reciprocal discipline was imposed, if the client so requests in a written declaration in court.

Woodruff cannot represent client in new cases during the period of suspension, the judge added.

He can apply for reinstatement after the expiration of at least one-half of the period of suspension —  that is, six months and one day from the entry of the March 28, 2018 order.

 The judge also directed the clerk of court to send a copy of the order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

She reiterated that reciprocal discipline was warranted and that the court correctly imposed it on Woodruff.

She noted that the Ninth Circuit did not review her reciprocal discipline order or comment on it in its own original reciprocal discipline proceeding.

However, she said, the Ninth Circuit’s decision not to impose reciprocal discipline on Woodruff is not binding on the district court.

She also said that the district court is not bound to reciprocate and impose the same discipline that the Ninth Circuit did, namely probation.

Nevertheless, the judge said she is mindful of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and recognizes that it is based on a review of essentially the same record of the CNMI disciplinary proceedings and the application of the same law.

On March 9, 2017, Judge Tydingco-Gatewood disbarred Woodruff from law practice before the District Court for the NMI and imposed the CNMI court’s reciprocal discipline on the lawyer.

Woodruff was ordered not to accept any new client or retainer or engage as the attorney for another in any new case or legal matter of any nature.

He was also ordered not to apply for reinstatement until two years had passed from the effective date of disbarment.

On April 5, 2017, Woodruff appealed and asked the district court to modify the reciprocal discipline order against him.

When Judge Tydingco-Gatewood denied his request, Woodruff appealed again.

The Ninth Circuit itself considered whether to impose reciprocal discipline on Woodruff.

The appellate commissioner, after conducting a hearing, found a lack of due process, infirmity of proof, and grave risk of injustice, and recommended that the Ninth Circuit should not accord a presumption of correctness to the commonwealth disciplinary proceedings.

The appellate commissioner recommended the imposition of an alternative discipline of 18 months probation, during which Woodruff would be allowed to compete pending appeals but prohibited from taking new cases.

On Oct. 26, 2017, Woodruff filed a motion for relief from judgment, asserting that the appellate commissioner exposed flaws in the commonwealth disciplinary proceedings and that the NMI district court should revise its own analysis of the record.

Woodruff said he will accept a period of probation not more than 18 months, and at a minimum should be allowed to complete his representation of Dr. Gray Ramsey who has sued the CNMI government and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. over the termination of his medical privilege.

On Nov. 30, 2017, Judge Tydingco-Gatewood issued a notice to Woodruff indicating an inclination to grant the motion and modify her order.

On Dec. 7, 2017, Woodruff filed a response to the court’s notice and declined the court’s proposal.

He stated that he “does not believe it is appropriate to impose discipline on [himself] that is harsher and more restrictive than that imposed by the Ninth Circuit.”

Probation, he added, was an available means of discipline.

It was alleged that in nine civil actions, Woodruff took payment from clients but failed to keep in contact with them. He allegedly failed to respond to their inquiries about the status of their cases;  failed to do work he promised to do and file documents that needed to be filed; and failed to make scheduled court appearances, including for trial, often with disastrous consequences for the clients.

The district court found that Woodruff had repeatedly violated the Model Rules of Professional Conduct which have been adopted as the rules governing attorney conduct in the CNMI, “with respect to competence, diligence, communication with clients and candor to the court.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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