A prison inmate takes on his former attorney, helps get him suspended from the bar, then goes in for the kill.
An inmate at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution filed a pro se lawsuit last week against his former lawyer, William A. Snider of the Law Barn in Wethersfield, alleging the attorney’s poor performance violated his civil rights.The inmate, Terrell Watkins, has already pursued a successful grievance complaint against Snider. In the course of those proceedings, Snider made a false statement under oath, and his work on Watkins’s case ultimately resulted in a nine month suspension from practicing law. In meting out the suspension, however, New Britain Superior Court Judge Richard Robinson ruled the Statewide Grievance Committee did not prove Snider “knowingly” made the false statement.Snider represented Watkins in an Appellate Court matter resulting from Watkins’s conviction for first and second degree robbery, for which he received a 30-year sentence, suspended after 12 years. On appeal, Snider argued the trial court improperly admitted written statements from an accomplice, according to the Appellate Court’s ruling. However, the Appellate Court ruled in part that because the accomplice was subjected to cross examination, the statements could be admitted. Snider and Watkins lost. The real controversy surrounds what happened next. Snider had ten days to file a cert. with the state Supreme Court, which would allow Watkins to pursue his case there. “Did you file?” Watkins asked at the December 2, 2002 grievance hearing.“I believe that the petition for cert. was filed within the period, if it was not, then an extension…or a permission to file late was attached to that,” Snider answered.“So, who is my lawyer?” Watkins asked. “You’re my lawyer, right?”“Yes, sir.“Watkins then gets to the meat of the issue. “Okay. You’re my lawyer, you mean to tell me you don’t know exactly what happened?”“The petition for cert. was filed,” Snider said.Not so, according to Watkins’s lawsuit, because the inmate contacted the Supreme Court Clerk’s office and learned that no cert. had been filed.Thus the Statewide Grievance Committee decided to present Snider to the court for discipline, and it included the false statement. But Robinson ruled that the SGC did not prove Snider made the comment knowingly. “[T]he Court notes however that despite the fact that the respondent subsequently discovered that his statement before the Commission was inaccurate he did not take any steps to supplement his response with the additional information,” Robinson ruled on January 27, 2005. Still, Snider’s collective behavior in the case warranted a nine month suspension, the judge decided.Messages left with Snider were not returned.Though Snider did receive a suspension, that does not guarantee success for Watkins in civil court, says Michael Bowler, acting statewide bar counsel. “Winning a malpractice case doesn’t mean winning an ethics claim, or vice versa,” Bowler says.Watkins was ultimately allowed to file a late cert. to the Supreme Court, but it was denied.