High-profile Boston defense attorney Stephen B. Hrones was in a courtroom today, but this time he was a spectator as his own lawyer asked the state's high court not to suspend Hrones's right to practice law.
After an extensive investigation, the Board of Bar Overseers concluded Hrones was letting a paralegal act as a lawyer in violation of ethics rules. Hrones also broke the rules by not supervising the paralegal, Lionel Porter, who mishandled discrimination cases. At the same time, the board found, Hrones made sure he got his share of Porter's legal fees.
But Hrones's attorney, Elizabeth Mulvey, told the Supreme Judicial Court today that Hrones did not help Porter pass himself off as a lawyer when soliciting clients that Porter represented before the state Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Hrones's only lapse, she said, was failing to properly supervise Porter while he worked in Hrones's office.
"But what about willful blindness?'' asked Justice Margot Botsford. "The red flags were coming in left and right."
Mulvey also noted that it was Hrones himself who asked for the investigation after the MCAD banned his office from handling cases there, an action Hrones should be credited for. Mulvey also insisted that Porter never held himself out as an attorney, a claim that prompted Justice Robert Cordy to express some frustration with Mulvey.
"Giving legal advice, filing lawsuits,'' Cordy said from the bench. "If that is not the practice of law, I am quite confused about what the practice of law is!''
Susan Strauss Weisberg, the attorney for the Office of Bar Counsel, told the judges that Hrones knew fully well what Porter was doing. And, she archly noted, Hrones eventually fired Porter in 2004 -- but only because he was failing to pay Hrones his share of the fees.
The Board of Bar Overseers wants Hrones suspended for one year and one day while Mulvey urged the SJC to impose a three month suspension, but not impose it.
Hrones has never shied away from controversy or the media in his decades-long legal career. He has represented the notorious – the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller is one example – as well as people wrongfully convicted of serious crimes.
Hrones helped four wrongfully convicted people regain their freedom, including Donnell Johnson who spent five years behind bars for the 1994 murder of 9-year-old Jermaine Goffigan in Roxbury.
After today's hearing, Hrones said he wants to continue his legal career, which began in 1969. He also acknowledged that he should have kept a closer eye than he did on Porter, who graduated from law school but never passed the bar exam.
"I just hope that I'm remembered for what I've done in a positive way, rather than this particular problem I face,'' Hrones said after the hearing. "There's no question, I've admitted it all along that I didn't supervise as I should have.''
The SJC is expected to take several weeks before issuing its ruling.
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