Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman found attorney Stephen C. Woodruff in civil contempt yesterday for not complying with the court’s disbarment order and sentenced him to five days in jail.
The jail sentence will, however, be suspended if the Woodruff complies with the requirements of the disbarment order by Oct. 8, 2013.
Woodruff was also required to pay the costs of disciplinary counsel Thomas E. Clifford for the time he spent preparing for and attending to this matter. Clifford was given 10 days to submit his billing.
Woodruff said he has not seen the contempt order but that if there is one it will be appealed.
Woodruff said he has repeatedly told Wiseman on the record that Wiseman needs to recuse himself because of his bias and prejudice against him, but he repeatedly refuses.
“That is one of the issues in my appeal of the disbarment order. Judge Wiseman continues in his improper campaign to defame me and apparently to attempt to interfere with my ability to practice before federal tribunals,” he said.
In his order yesterday, Wiseman said that Woodruff has not shown by clear and convincing evidence why he justifiably failed to follow the disbarment order of June 7, 2013, which also mandated compliance with Rule 15 of the Commonwealth Disciplinary Rules and Procedure.
Rule 15 requires a disbarred attorney to file with the Superior Court within 10 days after the disbarment an affidavit showing he has complied with the provisions of the order and the disciplinary rules, and that he has notified all other state, federal and administrative jurisdictions to which he is admitted to practice of the disbarment.
Rule 15 also requires a disbarred attorney to notify all his or her clients of the disbarment and advising these clients to seek other legal assistance.
Wiseman ordered Woodruff’s disbarment from the CNMI Bar on June 7, 2013, for 44 violations of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Some three months later, on Sept. 19, 2013, Wiseman summoned Woodruff and directed him to explain why he should not be held in contempt for failing to follow the disbarment order.
At the show cause hearing on Sept. 27, 2013, Woodruff appeared for himself. Clifford appeared as disciplinary counsel.
In his ruling yesterday, Wiseman said the proof for civil contempt must be clear and convincing—a standard higher than a “preponderance of evidence” but lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wiseman said the disbarment order required Woodruff to submit a list of his clients within 30 days after the June 7 disbarment order. As of the Sept. 27 hearing, no such list had been filed, the judge said.
Also, Wiseman said, Woodruff had not filed with the court his affidavit showing compliance with any of the mandates.
During the proceedings, Wiseman said, Woodruff was given ample opportunity to explain why he has not complied with the requirements of the court’s disbarment order, which also implicated Rule 15.
Woodruff argued, however, that he had requested a stay (or suspension) from the CNMI Supreme Court in this matter, and that he had already notified his clients of his inability to practice law when the CNMI Supreme Court suspended him in February 2013. He also asserted that he did not have any clients when the disbarment order was issued, and the orders of payment were not final orders.
The disbarment order also required Woodruff to pay the cost of prosecution in the amount of $6,120 and reimbursement for several clients totaling $2,850.
Wiseman said he is not swayed by Woodruff’s arguments.
“There is currently no effective stay in place that could divest this court of its jurisdiction,” the judge said.
Wiseman said there is no stay in place because the Supreme Court has not yet granted or denied Woodruff’s request.
Further, the judge noted, a motion for a stay must follow the guidelines in Rule 8 of the NMI Supreme Court Rules, which entails specific requirements beyond that of a single sentence requesting a stay.
As for Woodruff’s argument that he had no clients to notify of his disbarment because the Supreme Court had suspended him since February 2013, Wiseman said the court has no knowledge of this.
Wiseman said the Supreme Court’s suspension order of Woodruff in February 2013 occurred long before the disbarment order and that he fails to see a connection between that case and the current issue of disbarment and its requirements.