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Washington Prisoner Attorney Disciplined for Negligence

by Lonnie Burton

Attorney Jean Scheidler-Brown holds the DOC "free-services" contract to provide legal representation to prisoners incarcerated at McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) and the Washington Correction Center for Women, both in Washington state. In April 1997, she agreed to represent MICC prisoner William H. Rayburn in filing an appeal of the District Court's dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Scheidler-Brown memorialized this agreement in a July, 1997, letter to Rayburn.

On October 24, 2001, however, Scheidler-Brown was disciplined by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) for violating Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.4 and 5.1 for
allowing Rayburn's case to be dismissed and for ignoring Rayburn's repeated attempts to contact her.

Scheidler-Brown had assigned an associate in her office, S. Russell Joe, to complete and file Rayburn's Ninth Circuit brief, which he did on August 25, 1997. Shortly thereafter, Joe left Scheidler-Brown's employ. That's when the trouble began. Between September 9, 1997 and March 17, 1998, Rayburn wrote no less than 10 letters to Scheidler-Brown or her office requesting an update of his case. No one ever responded to Rayburn's queries.

In the meantime, the Ninth Circuit dismissed his case and sent a notice to Scheidler-Brown. However, she never forwarded this notice to Rayburn and he was thus unaware that his case had been dismissed.

In February 1998, having become so frustrated at Scheidler-Brown's lack of communication, Rayburn sent a copy of his last letter to Scheidler-Brown to the WSBA. The letter complained that "your last contact with me was August 1997 . . . and you have failed to respond to any of my numerous phone calls or letters."

Finally, in late February 1998, Rayburn got word through his prison counselor that Scheidler-Brown would be filing a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court and that she would be sending some documents to sign. However, Rayburn never got the documents and the petition for certiorari was never filed.

Rayburn then filed an official complaint with the WSBA for Scheidler- Brown's negligence and malpractice in his case. A hearing was held on October 10, 2001 and Scheidler-Brown was found guilty of violating the RPC's by failing to communicate with her client and keep him informed about his case.

The Bar found that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Scheidler-Brown committed malpractice in failing to file the petition for certiorari. Her discipline consisted of an admonishment because no other complaints had been filed against her. Scheidler- Brown's post-hearing motion to have the Bar reconsider its decision was denied. See: In Re Sheidler-Brown, WSBA Disc. Board #00136.

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Related legal case

In Re Sheidler-Brown