Hazel J. Washington, two-time felon, had her Wisconsin law license reinstated by a June 20, 2008 order of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. The most hilarious part of their decision is their reference to her morals:
Although the referee’s report discussed a number of concerns raised by the Office of Lawyer Regulation, the referee found that Attorney Washington had satisfied the requirements for the reinstatement of her license to practice law in Wisconsin. The referee found generally that Attorney Washington had proven that she has the moral character necessary to practice law in this state, that her resumption of the practice of law would not be detrimental to the administration of justice, and that she had complied with the terms of her suspension and the requirements that accompany a suspension.
I cannot believe the standard for getting back your law license is so low. Hazel originally got a law license only after a pardon by the governor on two felony convictions for which she served time in prison in the 1970’s. Just a little case of fraud. According to the decision:
First, the referee noted that Attorney Washington had previously been convicted of two felonies in 1979. Prior to becoming an attorney, Attorney Washington had been a social worker and had owned a social services agency. In connection with that agency, Attorney Washington was charged with and convicted of two counts of fraud involving overbillings to the Medicaid program. She served 18 months in prison and an additional couple of years on probation. Governor Tommy Thompson granted a pardon to Attorney Washington in 1988 following her graduation from law school and prior to her becoming licensed as an attorney in this state.
And then she was convicted on fraud charges again, this time income tax fraud. According to the Supreme Court’s decision:
This reinstatement proceeding stems from Attorney Washington’s 18-month suspension arising out of her conviction in federal court for attempting to evade the payment of a large portion of her federal income tax due for 1998. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) initiated an audit of Attorney Washington’s federal income tax returns while she was negotiating a plan to pay off $70,000 in delinquent employment tax obligations. The IRS’s investigation determined that Attorney Washington had intentionally failed to report over $100,000 in income for 1998 by depositing payments for legal services directly into her personal bank account or by directing them to her mortgage lender, thereby bypassing her business account, which Attorney Washington’s accountant had been directed to use to prepare her income tax returns. Attorney Washington’s hiding of this income caused an income tax loss to the federal government in excess of $31,000 for 1998. Attorney Washington also failed to report a similar amount of income in 1999 and 2000.
The federal authorities chose to charge Attorney Washington with only one count of tax evasion for 1998, although in her federal plea agreement Attorney Washington admitted that she had engaged in similar tax evasion for 1999 and 2000. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin accepted her guilty plea to the single count charged. The district court ultimately sentenced her to five months of imprisonment and two years of supervised release, 150 days of which were to be served in home confinement.
After the entry of Attorney Washington’s guilty plea, this court summarily suspended her license to practice law in this state, effective as of February 3, 2006.
Oops. Just a little failure to report her earnings and pay taxes on it. She pleaded guilty to one charge of tax evasion, but actually was caught for three years’ worth of fraud. More prison for Hazel.
Wisely, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) opposed reinstating Hazel’s law license. She couldn’t even be honest with them when trying to get her law license back:
The referee also discussed the OLR’s contention that Attorney Washington had misrepresented a number of items in her responses to the OLR’s reinstatement questionnaire. For example, the OLR claimed that Attorney Washington had failed to report income from the sale of a piece of real estate in October 2006, although she had shown a gain from a similar real estate transaction that had occurred in April 2006.At the reinstatement hearing, Attorney Washington explained that she had not listed the capital gain from the second sale because the IRS had immediately seized the funds as partial payment for back taxes.The referee noted that the OLR appeared to be satisfied with this explanation.
Another alleged misstatement in her reinstatement questionnaire responses involved a list of every civil action in which Attorney Washington was a party. Attorney Washington listed only one case, in which she had been a defendant and in which a judgment had been issued against her and then had been satisfied. She failed to include a substantial number of collection actions that had been filed on her behalf.Attorney Washington explained that she had a longstanding arrangement with a collection attorney to collect her overdue accounts receivable.The attorney attempted to collect the funds, and if unsuccessful, often filed a collection action in circuit court. Attorney Washington stated that in most situations she was not notified by the attorney when the matter had progressed to the point of a formal legal action.Because of this arrangement and her limited involvement in the collection process, Attorney Washington stated that she had failed to consider these collection actions when responding to the OLR’s reinstatement questionnaire.
Ah yes… always an excuse why Hazel didn’t follow the law. She forgot. She was confused. She thought x, y, or z. (Or possibly the rules just don’t apply to Hazel in her own mind?)
But the referee thinks Hazel is reformed now:
In the end, the referee concluded that Attorney Washington had demonstrated the necessary moral character to practice law in this state and had shown that her resumption of the practice of law would not be detrimental to the administration of justice or subversive of the public interest.
The decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court minimizes the most recent fraud conviction:
In a similar vein, it is worthwhile to note that the criminal activity that led to this suspension of her license to practice law in Wisconsin did not directly involve the practice of law. Rather, it involved a matter in her personal life, her obligation to report her income accurately and to pay income taxes. Although criminal convictions about personal matters can certainly reflect adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as an attorney and can merit a suspension of the lawyer’s license, see SCR 20:8.4(b), such convictions do not always render an individual permanently unfit to practice law.
Here’s what puzzles me: One would think that after spending time in prison for fraud once, Hazel would have learned her lesson. Clearly she did not. And her most recent fraud is egregious. How on earth does one come to the conclusion that Hazel has any morals, let alone enough morals to be a licensed attorney?
When state officials allow someone like this to practice law, they devalue the law licenses of all the good and honest attorneys in the state.