Superior Court associate judge David A. Wiseman ordered yesterday the disbarment of lawyer Danilo T. Aguilar from practicing law in CNMI courts for his conviction in Guam of two felony counts of money laundering.
“The court believes that Mr. Aguilar’s misconduct has resulted in serious injuries to the legal profession, many former clients, to the public, and to the legal system in general and finds that the appropriate discipline is disbarment,” said Wiseman in a six-page order.
The Commonwealth Disciplinary Rules provide that a disbarred attorney cannot apply for readmission until five years after disbarment.
Wiseman determined that when Aguilar was convicted in Guam, he abandoned his law office, clients, and their files on Saipan.
The judge ordered that Aguilar’s name be stricken from the roll of admitted attorneys of the CNMI Bar. He also ordered Aguilar to pay the Superior Court for any costs associated with the prosecution of this disciplinary matter.
Before he could be re-admitted to practice law before Commonwealth courts, Aguilar will be required to take and pass the CNMI Bar Exam, including the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
The judge also required Aguilar to return any unearned retainer fees to his clients.
Aguilar pleaded guilty in September 2010 in the District of Guam to taking $184,947.49 in proceeds from a fraudulent Citibank cashier’s check. He was sentenced to 60 months of probation, full payment of restitution, among other terms and conditions.
The U.S. government charged that Aguilar responded to an email solicitation, which turned out to be part of an international Internet fraud scheme from Hong Kong that targeted attorneys.
Wiseman held the disciplinary proceeding after the U.S. District Court of Guam sent the CNMI Supreme Court in October 2010 a certification relating to Aguilar’s conviction. The CNMI Supreme Court referred the matter to Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert C. Naraja, who designated Wiseman to handle the matter.
Wiseman issued a show-cause order asking Aguilar to explain the extent of discipline he should be subjected to for his conviction, while being a member of the CNMI Bar Association. Aguilar did not show up at the disciplinary hearing on Sept. 28, 2011.
In his order yesterday, Wiseman said that Aguilar, having been convicted of the two felony counts of laundering of money instruments is deemed in violation of five sections of the Rule 8.4 of the Model Rules that deal with professional misconduct.
“The crime of money laundering is a crime of moral turpitude per se and is also one of fraud and dishonesty. Such criminal conduct reflects adversely on an attorney’s honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness as a lawyer,” Wiseman said.
Therefore, the judge said, an attorney with such convictions should be punished in a way that will assure the public’s confidence in the Judiciary’s regulation of attorneys practicing in the CNMI.
“This is the second incident with respect to an attorney being disciplined for felony convictions, and it is imperative that the proper discipline be given in order to set the standard for other attorneys practicing law here in the CNMI,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman said that Aguilar had many former clients who paid legal fees to his office and had important pending matters being represented by him, in and out of court. When they followed up on the statuses of their cases and their files, there were none to be found and they were left to deal with his secretary.
Wiseman said there were absolutely no provisions made for the many clients Aguilar represented, and no refund of unearned fees that were paid by clients in several cases, “which indicates a callous and gross indifference” for the Judiciary and the clients he agreed to represent.
“In addition to duties owed to clients, the lawyer also owes duties to the general public. Members of the public are entitled to be able to trust lawyers to protect their property, liberty, and their lives,” he said.
The community, Wiseman said, expects lawyers to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and lawyers have a duty not to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or interference with the administration of justice.