Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Edwin R. Jonas III

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Docket No.: BAR-13-16

Issued by: Board of Overseers of the Bar

Date: September 24, 2014

Respondent: Edwin R. Jonas III

Bar Number: 003553

Order: Reinstatement Not Recommended

Disposition/Conduct: Reinstatement Petition


Recommendations and Findings of the Board of Overseers of the Bar

Pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.3(j), Edwin R. Jonas III (Bar No. 3553) of Lakeside, Montana [hereinafter Petitioner], seeks reinstatement to the Maine Bar. Petitioner filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court a Petition for Reinstatement dated September 18, 2013, which was subsequently opposed by Bar Counsel under the provisions of Maine Bar Rule 7.3(j)(5).

On March 6, 2014, a hearing before a panel of the Board of Overseers of the Bar’s Grievance Commission was held in Portland, Maine. The resulting Report of Findings dated March 21, 2014, issued by this Grievance Commission hearing panel, recommended reinstatement, finding that Petitioner met the criteria for reinstatement under the above-mentioned Rule. Bar Counsel timely objected to that decision, leading the Board of Overseers of the Bar to create a special panel to review the evidence adduced at hearing and make a recommendation to the Board as to whether the Board should recommend that the Court approve the Petitioner’s reinstatement to the Bar.1

Petitioner had a very high burden of proof for reinstatement as set forth in the Maine Bar Rules. Under Rule 7.3(j)(5) governing reinstatement, the Petitioner must show by clear and convincing evidence that he has, inter alia, the moral qualifications and competency required for admission to practice law in the state of Maine. The Petitioner must also offer clear and convincing evidence that it is likely that reinstatement will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the Bar, the administration of justice, or to the public interest. Factors to be considered in determining whether Petitioner has met that burden include evidence that:

(A) The Petitioner has fully complied with the terms of all prior disciplinary orders;

(B) The Petitioner has neither engaged nor attempted to engage in the unauthorized practice of law;

(C) The Petitioner recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct;

(D) The Petitioner has not engaged in any other professional misconduct since resignation, suspension or disbarment; (E) The Petitioner has the requisite honesty and integrity to practice law;

(F) The Petitioner has met continuing legal education requirements of Rule 12(a)(1) for each year the attorney has been inactive, withdrawn or prohibited from the practice of law in Maine, but need not complete more than 22 credit hours of approved continuing legal education for that entire period of absence from practice, provided that: (1) no more than one half of the credits are earned through in-office courses, self-study, or a combination thereof; and (2) at least two credit hours are primarily concerned with the issues of ethics or professional responsibility.

In reaching its recommendation, the review panel examined the evidence submitted at hearing and reviewed the hearing transcript. In response to Bar Counsel's objections to the Grievance Commission's Report of Findings and Recommendations, the review panel requested and reviewed briefs submitted by the parties. The Board acknowledges the prodigious amount of work performed by the hearing panel and gives deference to its role as fact finder. Nevertheless, the Board concludes that Petitioner has not met his burden and the Board cannot recommend his reinstatement. See, e.g., Bailey v. Board of Bar Examiners, 2014 ME 58 (Law Court found that Petitioner seeking admission to Bar had not met his burden, despite two testimonial hearings at which two different fact finders had opportunity to evaluate witnesses’ demeanor and credibility).

There are myriad reasons for this recommendation:

(1) Conditional reinstatement. The hearing panel recommended reinstatement provided that Petitioner pay all outstanding costs still due with respect to bar disciplinary proceedings in New Jersey and Florida, as well as provide a full response to financial disclosure questions. The hearing panel also recommended conditioning reinstatement on Petitioner providing tax returns for review by Bar Counsel.2 Under the Rules, the Grievance Commission does not have express authority to recommend a conditional reinstatement, and furthermore, the Petitioner did not comply with the conditions named by the hearing panel.

(2) Incomplete answers to Board questionnaire. Under Rule 7.3(j)(5), Petitioner was to fully complete the Board’s reinstatement questionnaire. He did not provide a full response about his income, tax returns, and a listing of all cases and copies of all decisions that he is involved in, as requested by the questionnaire. Rather, Bar Counsel had to obtain and disclose the very revealing decisions to the hearing panel.

(3) Judgment of over $1,000,000. In 2006, the New Jersey Superior Court ordered Petitioner to pay his ex-wife over $1,000,000 in an admittedly highly contentious post-divorce litigation.3 Although Petitioner has a right to dispute that judgment, it is a final judgment which is owed full faith and credit. Petitioner has not made any payments on that judgment. Rather, Petitioner initiated substantial litigation in Montana to avoid the enforcement of the judgment against him.4 None to date have been successful. Those decisions, too, deserve full faith and credit. Indeed, one Montana court chastised Petitioner for filing six appeals of this New Jersey judgment after his disciplinary suspension.5

(4) Burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Petitioner recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of his conduct. The Petitioner’s actions, as evidenced in the disciplinary decisions against him and in his testimony before the hearing panel, are indicative of just the opposite. For example, Petitioner contends that the Special Master in New Jersey did not find that he violated a rule regarding candor to a tribunal, when, in fact, the judge found that he had committed a fraud upon the court when he removed his children from the jurisdiction.6 Other examples include, but are not limited to the following:

The hearing panel found that Petitioner did not seek legal retribution against a judge, despite significant evidence to the contrary. Petitioner testified against the judge hearing his divorce before the New Jersey Legislature forcing the judge to recuse himself. He also filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action against the Montana judge7 with whose decision he did not agree, stating, “I'm about what's right and wrong here, and what he did was wrong.”8 Petitioner admitted filing legal ethics complaints against two New Jersey judges and moved to disqualify one of those judges.9

Petitioner has been called a vexatious litigant by the Montana Supreme Court,10 and continues to challenge the final decisions against him and the judges who issued those decisions, at hearing essentially internalizing the matters as things having “been done to him.”11

Petitioner failed to demonstrate candor in the reinstatement hearing when he testified that a warrant of arrest had not been issued against him in New Jersey, despite numerous court references to the contrary,12 and despite his request that his 2006 disciplinary hearing in New Jersey be moved to Pennsylvania or that he be allowed to appear by telephone.13 As Bar Counsel points out, the only plausible explanation for those requests is that Petitioner did not want to come back to New Jersey with a warrant pending. Petitioner did express remorse for his actions, but only after he was specifically prompted by the hearing panel chair as follows: "Do you express remorse or regret. . . ?,” Petitioner: "Yes."14

(5) Actions that led to discipline. The Board cannot overlook Petitioner’s actions that led to his disciplinary suspension. He removed his children from the jurisdiction in violation of a court order by taking them to the Cayman Islands,15 and transferred property to his sister and friend in violation of a court order.16 He then rationalized the conduct by saying that his children wanted to go with him to the Cayman Islands and that he placed the property in a trust for his children, though no trust could ever be found.17 Finally, at the reinstatement hearing and elsewhere, he repeatedly accused the judge who determined that he violated those orders of being retaliatory.18

In conclusion, the hearing panel failed to make requisite findings that Petitioner recognizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of his misconduct. The hearing panel also failed to make requisite findings that Petitioner possesses the moral character to practice law in the State of Maine and made no findings as to Petitioner’s honesty and integrity. The evidence establishes that reinstating Petitioner would be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the Bar, the administration of justice, and the public interest.

September 24, 2014


Gregory T. Caswell, Board Chair


Footnotes

1 To avoid confusion, the special panel created by the Board will be referred to herein as the "review panel" and the Grievance Commission hearing panel will be referred to as the "hearing panel."

2 The decision is somewhat ambiguous, as the hearing panel both "conclude[s] and recommend[s]" that the petition be granted upon the conditions provided, but it also provides that Petitioner's personal and corporate tax records for the past 18 years "should be produced for Bar Counsel's review and any final action on the petition should await Bar Counsel's determination whether those records afford any new grounds to believe the Petitioner may be unfit to practice law in Maine." Petitioner objected to both of these conditions.

3 Board Exhibit #20.

4 See Board Exhibits #14-19.

5 See Board Exhibit #15 pp. 108-109 (Montana Twentieth Judicial District Court Order and Rationale dated July 14, 2011). The review panel concludes that the hearing panel did not give sufficient full faith and credit to the numerous decisions finding against Petitioner, and did not give due consideration to the type of litigant that Petitioner has proven to be over many years.

6 See Board Exhibit #10, p. 41 (Supreme Court of New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board Decision dated September 2, 2005).

7 See Board Exhibit #27, p. 167 (United States District Court, D. Montana Order dated June 12, 2013, Edwin R. Jonas III and Blacktail Mountain Ranch Co., LLC v. Ronald F. Waterman, Esq. Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman and Honorable Charles B. McNeil).

8 See Board v. Jonas Grievance Hearing Transcript p. 101, lines 6-18.9 See Transcript p. 40, lines 19-25.

10 See Board Exhibit #18, p. 140 (Montana Supreme Court Decision dated July 23, 2013).

11 See, e.g., Bailey v. Board of Bar Examiners, 2014 ME 58 ¶ 51.

12 Board Exhibit #20, p. 2 ¶¶5.

13 See Board v. Jonas Grievance Hearing Transcript pp. 57-60.

14 See Transcript p. 72, lines 19-25.

15 See Transcript p. 43, lines 10-12; 13-14: 20.

16 See Transcript p. 71, lines 4-25

17 Id. at fn 14 and 15.

18 See Transcript p. 43, lines 10-12; 13-14: 20.