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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Is Disbarment a Deterrent?

News recently came that Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, had been disbarred.

The disbarment came as a result of Libby's convictions last year for perjury and obstruction of justice in a White House leak investigation.

The issues of disbarment and lawyer discipline are of considerable interest here at Legal Schnauzer. A central figure in our story, Pelham, Alabama, attorney William E. Swatek, has faced serious and repeated discipline during his almost 30-year legal career.

Swatek has had his license suspended. And like Libby, Swatek faced criminal charges of perjury. Unlike Libby, Swatek somehow managed to get off--even though public documents point overwhelmingly to his guilt.

Escaping a felony conviction allowed Swatek to avoid disbarment. But even if Swatek had been disbarred, would that have kept me--and a number of his own clients--from being victimized?

My research indicates the answer to that question is probably no. And that is an indictment of a justice system that has a preposterously weak system for disciplining lawyers. In fact, it's barely better than no discipline system at all.

How terrible is the system for trying to keep lawyers in line? Consider Libby's crimes. Our justice system is built on the notion that people must tell the truth under oath. If that notion is abused, particularly by lawyers who are sworn to uphold the law, our system collapses. A lawyer who lies under oath is equivalent to a doctor intentionally making patients sick.

What would happen to a doctor who was found to have intentionally made patients sick? I'm not an expert on the subject, but my guess is such a doctor would be disqualified from the profession permanently.

How was Scooter Libby punished for an equivalent crime in the legal profession. He will be disbarred until at least 2012. So he's probably looking at four whole years of not practicing law. Four years for lying under oath!

What about Bill Swatek? In the early 1980s, the Alabama State Bar found Swatek guilty of acts involving "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation." The Bar also found that Swatek had engaged in conduct that "adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law."

So the State Bar found that Bill Swatek was dishonest and essentially unfit to practice law. And what was his big punishment? His license was suspended for 60 days--you heard that right, 60 whole days! And he's been disciplined twice more since then! And one of those cases involved five complaints rolled into one!

(Sorry for all of the exclamation points. I'm hyperventilating here.)

Swatek then faced criminal charges for perjury. In a decision that rivals the O.J. Simpson verdict, Swatek was found not guilty--and that evidently allowed him to avoid disbarment. Many more details are coming on Swatek's criminal trial and his numerous run-ins with the Alabama State Bar.

Even had he been disbarred, Swatek probably would have gotten his bar card back after a few years. So folks like me still would have been cheated by a lawyer who should have been drummed out of the profession years ago.

Here's what's so appalling about the current state of our justice system. At worst, you would think the legal profession would treat Swatek like a pariah. But, nooooooooo!

Shelby County judges give him every break in the book--and quite a few breaks that aren't in the book. They repeatedly make unlawful rulings to Swatek's benefit. And even the Shelby County clerk and sheriff sign off on bogus actions at Swatek's behest without batting an eye. And this is a lawyer with a 30-year record of acting corruptly!

Has Bill Swatek changed as a result of all the "discipline" that has been heaped upon him for his various transgressions? Our story will show that he hasn't changed one bit. Our story will show that he is still unfit to practice law.

Lawyers like Bill Swatek are not remotely afraid of the legal profession's disciplinary system. I'm just one of many citizens who have paid a major price for that.

Trust me when I tell you that you will not believe some of the things Bill Swatek has done in his legal "career." He has committed acts so bizarre, so corrupt, so over-the-top that I could not possibly make them up.

Thankfully, I don't need to make them up because they are all true--and they are right in the public record for anyone to read. But you don't have to go digging through the archives to find out just what a sleazebag Bill Swatek truly is. I've done all of that for you, and I will share these goodies here at Legal Schnauzer in the near future.

But keep this in mind: Bill Swatek, this guy who has committed mind-bogglingly corrupt and incompetent acts, stuff the most imaginative novelist could not think up, is an "officer of the court" in Alabama. As such, he has the power to sign off on documents that cause the Shelby County Sheriff to threaten an unlawful seizure of my house.

Here's something else to keep in mind: For years, we've heard Republican operatives drone on about how "character counts." Well, Bill Swatek is the father of a prominent Republican operative, Dax Swatek. And Dax Swatek has direct ties to many key figures in the Don Siegelman saga--Bill Canary, Bob Riley, Alice Martin, etc.

So what are Republicans talking about when they chant, "Character counts?"

Keep reading Legal Schnauzer, and you will find out what kind of character Bill Swatek has. And his slimy tentacles connect to the very top of Republican political circles in Alabama.

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