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By Samson Habte
A prominent California DUI lawyer who hid a laminated card that a prosecutor used as a trial aid—and then lied to a judge about his actions—should be suspended from practice for 60 days, a three-judge panel of the California Bar Court recommended June 29 ( In re Genis, Cal. State Bar Ct. Review Dep’t, No. 14-O-04213, 6/29/17, unpublished).
The disciplinary ruling isn’t the most pressing legal problem for Santa Barbara attorney Darryl Wayne Genis, who recently began a two-year stint in federal prison for failing to pay taxes on $2.7 million he earned from his DUI practice from 2009-2011.
The recommended sanction—which will become final within 60 days unless challenged in the California Supreme Court—was tied to Genis’s actions during a 2014 DUI trial.
According to the opinion—and video footage recorded through a courtroom camera—Genis walked over to the prosecutor’s table during a recess and removed a laminated card that his opposing counsel used to remember evidentiary objections.
An expert witness who remained in the courtroom saw Genis hide the card under a pile of papers. The prosecutor subsequently alerted the judge, and when Genis was confronted he denied moving the card.
The hearing judge described Genis’s conduct as “sophomoric” and recommended that he be admonished.
The review panel saw things differently. It said the hearing judge’s analysis was off because it “focused on Genis’s underlying acts of touching and moving [the] placard, rather than Genis’s false statements” to the judge.
Writing for the court, Judge Ronald W. Stovitz further noted that California rules “specify that a matter may not be resolved by admonition if it involves dishonesty or moral turpitude.”
That was the case here, the panel said, because Genis was charged with violating California Business & Professions Code §6068(d), which proscribes misleading a judge.
Genis “knowingly and intentionally made false statements” to the judge, Stovitz said. “Such misconduct necessarily involves dishonesty and moral turpitude and thus does not qualify for an admonition under our rules,” he wrote.
The court determined that the appropriate sanction was a 60-day actual suspension, followed by 22 months of probation.
The court said it would have departed from the hearing judge’s recommendation even “if an admonition were a permitted option.”
That sanction was too lenient in light of relevant precedent and aggravating factors, the court said.
One aggravating factor was Genis’s prior record of discipline, which showed a 30-day actual suspension in 2015 for disobeying court orders from two different judges.
In the opinion imposing the prior discipline, the review panel described Genis as “an effective but confrontational criminal defense attorney.” It also quoted the testimony of one of the judges Genis had disobeyed, who said Genis was “probably the best DUI lawyer ... on [California’s] Central Coast.”
Stovitz said that those odes to Genis’s skills were one reason the panel went easy on him in the prior case. However, he added, “Having given Genis the benefit of the doubt in Genis I, we assign significant aggravating weight to his prior record of discipline.”
Another aggravating factor was the fact that Genis appeared to be “bullying” his opponent in the case that gave rise to this proceeding.
“Genis’s bullying of other officers of the court appears to be a common thread among his past and present misconduct, which ... further demonstrates his lack of rehabilitation,” Stovitz wrote.
The court said another relevant consideration was that Genis’s violations involved misconduct that “interferes with the efficient administration of justice” and “undermines public confidence in the legal system.”
“We emphasize that attorneys are sworn officers of the courts, and ‘[i]t is, of course, an extremely serious breach of an attorney’s duty to a court to lie in statements made to the court,’” Stovitz wrote. “Practically speaking, courts simply cannot function unless judges can trust that attorneys appearing before them are telling the truth.”
Judges Catherine D. Purcell and Patrice E. McElroy joined the opinion.
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