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Peters v. Committee on Grievances

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

April 4, 2014

KRISTAN L. PETERS, Appellant,
v.
COMMITTEE ON GRIEVANCES FOR THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, Appellee

Argued February 19, 2014.

Page 457

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. M-2-238 (CM) -- Colleen McMahon, Judge, for the Committee on Grievances. Kristan Peters, an attorney admitted to the bars of New York and Connecticut, appeals from the April 10, 2013 Order of the Committee on Grievances for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (the " Committee" ) suspending her from practicing law in the Southern District of New York for seven years, based on a conclusion that she violated various provisions of the New York Code of Professional Responsibility (" Professional Code" ), 22 NYCRR § § 1200.1 et seq., while a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney. Peters challenges both the finding that she violated the Professional Code, and the reasonableness of the seven year suspension. Upon review of the record, we find no error in the Committee's conclusion that Peters violated the Professional Code. We hold further that the Committee acted well within its informed discretion in ordering a seven-year suspension, notwithstanding the lack of directly analogous precedent, based on its conclusion that Peters's conduct was sui generis. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the Committee suspending Peters from practice in the Southern District of New York for a period of seven years.

ELKAN ABRAMOWITZ (Catherine M. Foti, Daniel F. Wachtell, on the brief), Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, P.C., New York, NY, for Appellant Kristan L. Peters.

QIAN A. GAO (David B. Tulchin, Esterina Giuliani, on the brief), New York, NY, for Appellee Committee on Grievances.

Before: CABRANES, SACK and WESLEY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 458

PER CURIAM

Kristan Peters, an attorney admitted to the bars of New York and Connecticut, appeals from the April 10, 2013 Order of the Committee on Grievances for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (the " Committee" )[1] suspending her from practice in the Southern District of New York (" SDNY" ) for seven years, based on a conclusion that she violated various provisions of the New York Code of Professional Responsibility (" Professional Code" ), 22 NYCRR § § 1200.1 et seq., while a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney. Peters challenges both the finding that she violated the Professional Code, and the reasonableness of the seven-year suspension.

This case comes to us on appeal for the second time, after we vacated the Committee's first order suspending Peters for a term of seven years, and remanded with instructions to, inter alia, conduct an independent evidentiary hearing on the charges. On review of the new record, we find no error in the Committee's conclusion that Peters violated the Professional Code. We hold further that the Committee acted well within its informed discretion in ordering a seven-year suspension, notwithstanding the lack of directly analogous precedent, based on its conclusion that Peters's conduct was sui generis .

Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the Committee suspending Peters from practice in the Southern District of New York for a period of seven years.

BACKGROUND

A. Charges Against Peters

The facts underlying the challenged suspension have been repeated in several opinions, over hundreds of pages, and need not be re-stated here.[2] Briefly, the charges against Peters arose out of her conduct as a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, in the course of litigation in SDNY before Judge Harold Baer, Jr. (the " Wolters-Kluwer litigation" ).

Page 459

Peters was charged principally with (1) instructing a first-year associate, Jordan Brackett, to " mark up" deposition transcripts on the theory that the markings would bring the transcripts under the protection of the attorney work-product privilege, thereby exempting them from Judge Baer's order that all discovery be returned to the District Court, and attempting to mislead the Court as to those events (the " Brackett Allegation," or " Charge One" ); and (2) " cop[ying] transcripts and order[ing] additional . . . transcripts in intentional disregard of court orders," and " us[ing] the transcripts in a[ ] [related] action in Massachusetts," in knowing violation of a confidentiality order (the " Confidentiality Order" ) entered by Judge Baer (the " Confidentiality Order ...


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