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Public Defender Had Lost License

L.A. County office is scrutinizing hundreds of cases he handled in the last two years.

August 13, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County public defender's office is reviewing hundreds of misdemeanor cases handled by a staff attorney who lost his license to practice law two years ago, officials said Tuesday.

David Russell Jackson has been ineligible to practice law in California since September 2001, according to State Bar of California records. But he continued to work at the Airport Courthouse, mostly representing poor clients.

Jackson was sent home last Thursday with pay -- he earns between $55,000 and $90,000 a year -- after his bosses learned of his status, Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert Kalunian said.

"We have been contacted in the past by the state bar with the names of lawyers who are delinquent in their bar dues," Kalunian said. "But we never received information from the bar with respect to [Jackson's] license."

He declined to say how officials learned that Jackson had failed to complete requirements for continuing legal investigation. An internal investigation is underway.

"We have no reason to believe that he was incompetent," Kalunian said. "Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, we are looking at every case that he has handled."

Jackson, a graduate of UCLA School of Law, could not be reached.

State bar records show that Jackson failed to complete the mandatory 25 hours of education every three years and was placed on administrative inactive status. He could face disciplinary charges from the bar or even criminal charges of practicing law without a license, bar spokesman E.J. Bernacki said.

A lawyer since 1976, Jackson had been assigned to misdemeanor cases, including the arraignment court, Kalunian said.

He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which could take a week or two, Kalunian said.

"Obviously, he cannot work as a deputy public defender because he does not have a valid license to practice law," he said.

Kalunian said that Jackson probably had represented 500 to 1,000 clients during those two years and that their cases would be reviewed.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that lawyers barred from law practice for administrative reasons, such as failing to complete educational requirements, are not necessarily incompetent, Kalunian said. Under those circumstances, clients who hope to have their cases thrown out on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel would still have to prove that errors had occurred that affected the outcome of their cases, he said.

If such problems are discovered, Kalunian said, his office will take "necessary correction action."

Bernacki said the state bar distributes a weekly list of lawyers ineligible to practice law to every court in the state. The information also is available on the state bar's Web site, www.calbar.ca.gov

Kalunian said the office will review its procedures.

Deputy public defenders are required by office policy to notify supervisors if a disciplinary complaint has been filed against them or if they have other licensing issues.

As part of their annual performance evaluation, deputy public defenders must supply their bar number, Kalunian said.

The public defender's office provides free educational courses to its lawyers to complete the bar requirements.

"The ironic thing is there is no requirement that the courses you take relate to your area of practice," Kalunian said.

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