Scott McInnis plagiarism scandal no big deal to attorney disclipline czar

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Scott McInnis
Call it a decision that doesn't hold water.

The Colorado Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel has found no grounds to impose disciplinary measures on former congressman Scott McInnis -- even though the fact he received $300,000 from a private foundation for plagiarized writings on water law was enough to knock him out of the governor's race last year.

Ethics Watch director Luis Toro had requested an OARC investigation to determine whether McInnis had violated attorney ethics standards by providing a series of articles on state water law to the Hasan Family Foundation at a cost of $2,000 per page and representing the work as his own. In addition to being execrably written, one section of the "Musings on Water" borrowed heavily and without credit from a 1984 essay by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.

In a letter to Toro dated May 20, Regulation Counsel John Gleason concludes that there is no "clear and convincing evidence Mr. McInnis knowingly engaged in dishonest conduct" because the incorporation of Hobbs' work was done by his research assistant, Rollie Fisher, despite cautions from McInnis not to plagiarize. Furthermore, McInnis produced e-mails that indicated he'd told the Hasans that he'd retained Fisher to help him prepare the articles.

In certain quarters, Gleason's lawyerly analysis is being hailed as proof that McInnis got a raw deal from GOP leaders and the Denver Post over this embarrassing little flap. One supporter even sent out an e-mail claiming that McInnis had been "exonerated" and suggesting that the Denver media is deliberately ignoring this remarkable turn of events.

But getting a pass from the state's attorney regulators is hardly an exoneration -- unless, of course, you happen to believe that the Nixon pardon was an acquittal. As we've pointed out before, except in blatant cases of lawyers screwing clients (financially or sexually) -- or, God forbid, of someone giving legal advice without a license -- the OARC isn't known for zealous enforcement actions. Of the 5,000 complaints the agency receives each year, less than 10 percent are considered worthy of actual investigation, and only a small fraction of those cases lead to a public hearing.

In the McInnis case, Gleason has adopted the same line of reasoning that McInnis did when the story broke last year: it's all Fisher's fault. He didn't tell McInnis that he'd lifted Hobbs' work (which he apparently believed was in the public domain), so how can we hold McInnis responsible for the theft? And since the Hasans evidently knew McInnis had hired a research assistant -- contrary to statements made when the scandal erupted -- what's the big deal?

But this line of argument neatly sidesteps one huge honking piece of evidence in the case -- the memo McInnis sent to Seeme Hasan on December 2, 2005, in which he declared, "The articles have been carefully documented, proofed and again at your insistence, written at a level that non-water experts could easily understand... All the Articles are original and not reprinted from any other source."

Documented? Nope; the absence of footnotes is one of its few charms. Proofed, maybe, but it's hard to tell, given the weird quirks of grammar and punctuation that seem to pass for the congressman's style. But by putting his name at the top, McInnis was representing that the stuff was indeed original. Acknowledging the aid of a research assistant, or even a ghost writer (which the project badly needed) doesn't absolve the principal of the duty to insure that what's being warranted as original is, in fact, original. In authorship and politics, the buck stops at the big guy's desk.

Any high schooler knows that passing off somebody else's work as your own is unethical. But that's real-world ethics. Attorney ethics operate in a more elevated realm -- somewhere between here and the 63 moons of Jupiter.

More from our Media archive: "Scott McInnis, Rolly Fischer and the more dubious part of the Denver Post scoop."

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14 comments
Northpass
Northpass

Does anyone know what happened to the $ 300,000 given to McGinnis, as he did not write the piece ?   His double clutch after he got caught red handed with the money. How is it McGinnis is getting dumped in his pockets $ 300,000 ? He never got a woman pregnant like John Edwards, so is this a way to evade bans of money to  influence a politicians  ?  The Hassan family(out of Vail) demanded the money back, so that was after the racket was exposed, as a mere ploy to influence a then big GOP wheel. And, McGinnis was with Hogan and Lovell, a big lobby rain-maker, so of course that can hardly be discounted in the mercenary role that OARC, fixer Gleason plays in this State, and its tawdry   double standards, that has now become a joke making Colorado the ethically challenged state to its really big FIXERS

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

P.S. I think these people in Steamboat, the city attorney, city council president etc., were psychopaths.  1% of the population is supposed to be psychopaths. I think they were after my husband and I not only because of the location of our land but also because we graduated from MIT. I think they wanted to hurt us because we went to MIT and it made them feel important to hurt MIT grads. They also baited and humiliated our 14 year old son. We moved away because I was afraid our neighbor would bait him into a fight and then kill him.

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

It's not just a matter of "scandal", it's bad for Colorado's economy.  My husband David Sieverding is really a brilliant engineer.  He was the sole inventor of Polyhesive, a medical gel electrode developed at Valleylab in Boulder, purchased by Pfizer, that reached sales of almost $100 Million per annum.  He also got other patents that were actually used.  He is really creative and a great guy.  I wasn't a slacker either. I got a masters degree in city planning at MIT and did my thesis on municipal finance.  My husband was born in Colorado and grew up in Steamboat, where his father was president of the chamber of commerce.  We planned to spend our lives in Steamboat and arranged our business ideas around Steamboat.  

Instead we got involved in a stupid boundary dispute with a drug dealer who was president of the city council. Looking back I don't know how we could have avoided or got out of it.  When we tried to de escalate by allowing ourselves to be extorted out of our rights to Princeton Ave., the street adjoining our home, he didn't stop but instead built extra buildings violating the zoning and reportedly threatening to shoot someone who wanted to buy our home. There was even a bullet hole through our window. We could have ended up dead.   We have lived in misery for over 10 years unable to extradite ourselves from the situation while bad guys represented by bad lawyers tried to bankrupt us. I think they tried to make me so miserable I would commit suicide.  The whole time we lived in Steamboat too he told people that I was "mentally ill" and we were having a "feud".

And what happened to my brilliant husband and myself during these years?  Over half of our waking hours were spent dealing with attorney corruption instead of doing positive things.  This was unavoidable on our part.  No one who knows the situation even with the advantage of hindsight has been able to identify an easy way that we could have gotten out of it, other than by taking a big financial loss.  Which I would have done if I had known.  If we had known we never would have moved to Steamboat Springs.  

I can honestly say that I would have been better off if I had murdered my neighbor.  At the time I didn't even think of killing him and I have always been non violent, afraid of guns, a person of words etc etc.  And I won't even attempt to murder him now, it is too late and would be pointless.  But I read that someone murdered their neighbor and only got probation and my first thought was that that would have been so much better than trying to deal with Colorado courts.

I would never ever recommend that anyone buy property in Colorado because of the horrendous legal situation there. The horrendous legal situation benefits only a few people and the fall-out hurts many.  

I read somewhere that for every $ 1 benefit to a corrupt official there is a $100 indirect cost to society and I believe that is true.   In fact, I think that because of government corruption in Steamboat, which required lawyers to implement and cover-up, an innocent guy I never met named David Engle burned to death.

Mebcaux
Mebcaux

Yet further evidence of the degree to which there is an inverse relationship between the number of friends an attorney has in "high" places and the likelihood he or she will be prosecuted by OARC.  (See, e.g., Willie Shepherd).  It's all a question of "who[m] you know, and who[m] you blow." 

Quite apart from the question of plagiarism, which is hardly disproved by the "evidence" upon which Gleason relied to justify dismissal (there is conflicting evidence sufficient to warrant a trial), there remains the serious question of whether the writing of the article was nothing more than a subterfuge through which the Hasans made an illegal $300,000 contribution to McInnis' campaign. 

Gleason and OARC engage in selective prosecution, and non-prosecution, according to the wishes of the "leading members of the bar" that control the attorney regulation process. 

Hence, if you are a member of, or protected by, the inner circle, you are exempt from serious consequences for serious misconduct.  You can even intentionally overbill your clients tens of thousands of dollars, and receive a mere "public censure" with John Gleason's full approval.

If, on the other hand, those same "leading members of the bar" develop a hard-on for you because you have the temerity through excellent lawyering and very hard work to embarrass one of them, Gleason and the kangaroo court in which his minions never lose a case will ignore clear and convincing evidence of your INNOCENCE, and do everything they can to make an example of you.

They railroaded me out of the bar for the serious offense of quite ethically and skillfully winning a $1.22 million jury verdict against, and $850,000 settlement from, the extremely unethical City of Denver, which I proved suborned perjury and malicious prosecution to destroy Denver Firefighter's career and reputation because of his age.  

They did this as a favor to the City of Denver and US District Judge Robert Blackburn, to lend credence to Blackburn's completely unlawful new trial order 15 months after trial, and to make an example of me to other unconnected, unprotected attorneys who might also be tempted to sue the City's fat, dumb ass.

They did this despite the prosecuting attorney's recommendation of dismissal for lack of evidence.  They did this despite uncontradicted testimony under oath by the jury foreperson that I did not engage in the misconduct of which I was accused.  They convicted me in reliance upon the hearsay new trial order, and lay opinion testimony of my adversaries, in violation of my confrontation and due process rights. They convicted me despite my inability under federal rules to subpoena key witnesses in my favor, consisting of the other jurors, also in violation of my due process rights.

They have mercilessly persecuted Sunny Maynard, who may have engaged in very minor misconduct warranting very mild discipline, but who never deserved the intensely relentless series of witch hunts to which she has been subjected in reprisal for her tireless work against resource pirates and Gary Magness. 

The Colorado Supreme Court and Attorney Regulation Counsel are completely indifferent to the truth and the law.  Their only goal is to preserve the privileges and position of the second-rate DU and CU grads who control the bar and judiciary in Colorado, and to punish their enemies. They do this be repeatedly demonstrating that, unless you know and blow all the right people, they can have their way with you at whim.

THAT is the scandal.

Kimberly
Kimberly

As a graduate of one of those 'second-rate' schools you so eloquently speak of, all I can say is that with your winning attitude no wonder you're no longer practicing law. Your smugness is incredible.

You're no longer practicing because you were deemed unfit somehow, not because my alma mater did anything to prompt it. However, if the delusion that being a DU or CU grad gets you an 'in' at the OARC helps you sleep better at night, then keep playing that tune in your head.

I thought one of the principles of being a competent lawyer (and a fairly sound adult) was taking responsibility for your own actions. You seem to blame everyone else for the outcome of your particular case---the city of Denver, the OARC, Judge Blackburn. What did YOU do (or fail to do) that caught the attention of the regulatory council? As you stated in your post, they don't even bother investigating most of the complaints that come along. Your particular situation must have stood out for some reason, whether you want to admit that or not. I think, in your case, "conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal" should ring a bell.

Your rant seems to have nothing to do with the issue at hand, just a quick and convenient way to take a cheap shot at the law schools of this state and to make yourself look better somehow. THAT is the scandal.

Mebcaux
Mebcaux

Please note, Kimberly, that I described not CU or DU as second-rate, but certain of their graduates who, by virtue of their political weight (which is often a function of their assiduous service to major political players that subvert justice and our government for fun and profit), wield disproportionate influence over judicial and legal matters in Colorado. That said, your personal attack on me in response to my statement describing a continuing criminal conspiracy to abuse the attorney regulation process to violate of the civil rights of disfavored members of the bar, or to protect unethical-but-connected members of the bar, bespeaks indifference to the truth, the facts and the law that I have often encountered in graduates of a good many law schools on the order of DU or CU.  You thereby called into question not my fitness to practice law, but your own.  If you were at all inclined to do what any competent attorney would do, which is to investigate the facts and draw conclusions in accordance with the law, you would be compelled to conclude that I am the victim of a criminal conspiracy to violate my civil rights, and that certain "leading members of the bar" are the beneficiaries of an attorney regulation system that deems them above the law by virtue of their political power or connections. I worked my ass off for several years to vindicate my clients civil rights, which were violated with blithe indifference to the law and the truth by the City of Denver, which suborned perjury and fraudulent prosecution to deprive my client of his career.  I, as the jury foreperson testified without contradiction, won the verdict NOT through misconduct, but through effective lawyering, aided and abetted by the inability of the City of Denver to tell the truth when a lie seems more expedient, and by the helpful tendency of their attorneys to bore and alienate the jury.  The City waived its right to a new trial by failing to move for mistrial.  Judge Blackburn saw no grounds fro a mistrial sua sponte.  Only 15 months after trial, during which time the City's friends in "high" places evidently supplied him with extra motivation, did Blackburn decide to undo the verdict, on fraudulent and unlawful grounds that even a first-year law student knows are inadequate to warrant a new trial. He knew he could do so because new trial orders are unconstitutionally treated as interlocutory and cannot be appealed.  Before retrial, Blackburn felt compelled to recuse.  The City, forced to appear for retrial before an honest Judge, Marcia Krieger, decided to pay my client $850,000, more than twice his actual damages, to settle. But you prefer to believe the lie that I am unfit to practice law in Colorado, when my only sin was to win my client's case, which many "experts" deemed a "loser", and to be a Stanford grad whom a second-rate lawyer and third-rate man, Robert E. Blackburn, enjoyed cutting down to size while hiding like a coward behind his judicial immunity and Federal Protective Services escort.    

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

What do you think about the idea of making attorney regulation counsel an elected office?  The candidates could publicly debate the fairest procedures and there would be regular turnover.

What do you think about the idea of OARC having a blog style complaint process where the complaining parties could enter alleged fraud, threatening statements, improper contact, failure to perform duties etc., attach documents and photos, and then the attorney could respond? Could that be made fair to everyone?

Alison Maynard
Alison Maynard

As Alan Prendergast knows, there is one other instance in which OARC will go after a lawyer, aside from "blatant cases of lawyers screwing clients (financially or sexually)"--and that is when the lawyer was the Green Party candidate for Colorado Attorney General, is a female, and has been talking publicly about the corruption in this state, including judicial corruption.  I am, of course, referring to myself, also referred to in the next comment as the one who prevailed against billionaire Gary Magness after 11 years of uncompensated litigation.  In that case, I put $300,000 into my clients' bank account, then found myself defending against a slew of bogus disciplinary grievances from Magness's lawyer Rebecca Alexander, who was mad she lost.

The fact that Westword has never said one word about my case is unfortunate evidence that it cares more about sucking up, itself, than about writing the truth or righting injustice.

Lori Hanegan
Lori Hanegan

Now all of Colorado knows what I have experienced in Colorado courts these past four years:  "attorney ethics standards are sub-normal to the rest of the professional standards."  Attorneys and judges have no ethical standards by which to live, work or breathe.

Kay Sieverding
Kay Sieverding

Mr. Lettunich reported his work on the following: 1. The Federal District Court held 

a contempt hearing regarding Kay Sieverding. She refused to dismiss the cases that she 

filed and was arrested. Mr. Sieverding dismissed the cases but later reneged and said 

He will not dismiss the cases; so he may be arrested as well.” (See 

http://steamboatsprings.net/si...

OARC thought that was fine.

"So you'll stay out of jail if all of these cases are dismissed in time for me to vacate the hearing. Otherwise, the next time you show up, you pack your toothbrush, because you're going to jail."

Former Judge Edward Nottingham to Kay Sieverding

OARC thought that was fine.

Eric
Eric

We can only hope this "exoneration" clears the way for mclobby to run for political office under the red flag again.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Stranger things have happened, Eric -- much stranger things. Thanks for posting.

dissenter
dissenter

The story didn't get told.  Uh, wattashock!

 Let's start with the facts that matter.  The Hasan family--then, one of the most prominent and active Republican families in the state of Colorado--entered into an agreement with Rep. McInnis through their Foundation under which, he would receive an annual stipend of $150,000 to serve as an advocate for Colorado water interests. But while no legal obligation technically attaches to an honorarium, those rules don't apply to lawyers, who actually have to tender value for their services. What Scott did was effectively steal $300,000 from the Foundation, as he did not even come close to tendering fair value.  This, in turn, is a violation of Colorado RPC 1.5(a), providing in pertinent part that a lawyer "shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee for his services."  The real scandal, which should have resulted in disbarment under the facts as publicly admitted, was this one. The plagiarism scandal was a sideshow.Your readers need to know about Attorney Regulation Counsel in Colorado and John Gleason. When it comes to the politically well-connected, they whitewash everything.  For example, former federal Chief Judge Edward Nottingham was caught patronizing Elliot Spitzer-class prostitutes on a weekly basis, which he couldn't possibly afford on his relatively meager judge's salary. The only possible way that he could have lived his dissolute lifestyle--he blew $3K in a single night at a strip club--was to accept bribes from litigants either in cash or in kind, as he had no other assets upon which to draw, and couldn't keep the staggering cost of his nocturnal adventures from his third wife (who had access to the couple's finances). Judge Nottingham's guilt was so obvious that he resigned from the bench, giving up a three-million dollar sinecure just three years from retirement without a fight,[1] but the OARC hasn't proceeded against his license and local authorities declined criminal prosecution, and he is now working as a rent-a-judge.  By stark contrast, poorly-connected attorneys are forced out of the profession for remarkably venial sins like winning suits against well-connected oligarchs (e.g.,layabout billionaire Gary Magness) and political entities (e.g., the City of Denver) and yes, I can prove that in spades. Corruption is business as usual in Colorado, and a bi-partisan sport. In OARC circles, well-connected lawyers are untouchable, a case in point being Democratic kingmaker Willie Shepherd (http://www.5280.com/magazine/2..., party being no factor in the outcome.  Mail fraud is only prosecuted in movies (e.g., The Firm).If McInnis honestly didn't know of the plagiarized material, he has still been a bad boy, as he has an affirmative duty to adequately supervise his subordinates.  See Colo. RPC 5.3(b).  How he handled the scandal was a prima facie ground for disqualification (for Sarah Palin-class stupidity), but even that is beside the point.  Another Denver Players scandal disappears...._________________[1] To amplify, federal judges enjoy a pension program which makes military retirement look spartan, as they are cashiered on full salary once they meet age and longevity requirements. But if you don't make it to the magic number (in Nottingham's case, it was 65), you get nothing. Nada. You don't walk away from a deal like that unless the government has something pretty devastating on you; soliciting a prostitute is a petty offense enforced by a fine as low as $75, which hardly qualifies as an impeachable offense. When he resigned, Judge Nottingham had a net worth of about a quarter-mill, and no liquid assets to speak of. He could not afford to employ that class of courtesan that frequently, and he was known to order them in bulk. The Denver Players scandal revealed a massive prostitution ring, involving politicians, judges (yes, in the plural), and athletes, involving the usual accoutrements (cocaine, orgies, general debauchery). If the client lists went public, Colorado society would collapse ... which is why the client lists stayed under wraps, and this scandal was made to go away quietly.  Again, business as usual in Colorado.

Mebcaux
Mebcaux

Well said!  Glad SOMEONE is paying attention!

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