THE WINDMILLS OF JACK LEVINE, PART 4
For bar leaders, normally tightlipped about everything, to encourage the Republic to review his case file was an outrage of the highest order, Levine says. In this instance, the bar chose to fight Levine's argument against merit selection by attacking his credibility.
Turney, who was not at the meeting but confirmed its substance, says there was nothing inappropriate" about the incident, noting that Levine's disciplinary files were public record at that point.
Since then, the proposed suspension has been upheld by a state Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, and now rests in the hands of the high court itself. The Arizona Supreme Court justices will decide soon if Levine should lose his license.
THE IMPENDING HIGH-COURT decision has left Levine in the position of pleading for mercy. While he may have erred in judgment, he argues, his actions hardly justify a three-year suspension.
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While there are few cases comparable to his, Levine's attorney argues that the harsh measures are a contortion of ethical rules. The rules are designed to protect the public from bad lawyers, attorney Bruce Meyerson has argued on Levine's behalf.
In Levine's case, the rules are being used to professionally decapitate an attorney simply because he has made the wrong people uncomfortable, Levine says.
He did not steal money from anyone. He did not cheat or abuse his clients. He did not foul his legal practice with drug or alcohol problems.
Mr. Levine poses no danger to the public," his attorney, Meyerson, argued in a brief filed with the Supreme Court. Mr. Levine has a 30-year legal practice and no prior disciplinary record. There is simply no evidence from which one could conclude that Mr. Levine's future conduct and practice will harm his clients or the public."
All but Levine's most severe critics agree the punishment is overly harsh. More than 100 attorneys showed up for a hearing before the high court in February in support of Levine, a highly unusual turnout since few attorneys ever attend disciplinary hearings in the hushed high-court chambers.
The bar would never come down so hard on a member of a large, influential law firm, several attorneys feel. But it has few qualms about squashing a lone dirty shirt" lawyer.
He's swimming against the tide, which I don't think is a very grave sin," says one longtime, influential Phoenix attorney who counts himself as a dirty shirt. He's not a crook."
Many compare Levine's case to an earlier scandal involving a member of one of the state's most prestigious law firms. In the early 1980s, Charlie Hoover of Jennings, Strauss and Salmon looted his own law firm's trust account.
When finally disciplined by the Arizona Supreme Court four years later, he was suspended from practice for only three months.
Levine has offered to atone for his zealousness by having another lawyer review any legal action he might contemplate involving Harris or Abril. The mentor" attorney would have veto power over any lawsuits Levine might consider filing related to the cases.
Ironically, Levine is also invoking a strategy made popular by Charlie Hoover-the trust-fund-looting attorney. Hoover received a slap on the wrist because he pleaded insanity, and promised to get treatment.
Levine has also promised to undergo counseling-in fact, has already begun it-to purge himself of any burdensome malice against Harris, if the high court will lessen his punishment.
At worst, Levine says, he is guilty of bad judgment, and does not deserve to lose his livelihood.
Other than making a few attorneys spend money, some of which was covered by their insurance companies, what harm has Levine's bad judgment caused?
Plenty, say those who have been among Levine's targets. I can't imagine that a guy who engages in this type of behavior is fit to practice law at all," says attorney Jack Cunningham, once sued by Levine as part of the Abril case.
Before the bar disciplinary committee, Harris testified to the trouble Levine has caused him. Levine's repeated legal actions, Harris said, have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and consumed time of his own worth more than $200,000.
He and his partner at one point could not get malpractice insurance because of the lawsuits, Harris said. It has been a trying ordeal, he testified.
I have been dragged down in the mud of a lover scorned," Harris testified. This isn't dumb. This isn't stupid behavior. This is insidious."
SO WHAT ARE the fruits of that ugly car accident on Third Street 14 years ago?
Anthony Abril got more than $111,000Ïhis $1.3 million award was reduced on appeal and half of it went to attorneys. He went on a round-the-world trip, including a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He carries a vial of holy water from Mount Calvary with him, and will anoint you with it whether you ask him to or not.
Gregory Johnson received almost $80,000. For at least two years, his attorney says, he invested the money in a certificate of deposit and would wander in off the street periodically to withdraw the interest. He has since become hard to find.
Pearlie Mae Taylor was killed in the auto accident and her mother received only $15,000-the limits of Abril's policy-on behalf of the dead woman's seven children.
William Piatt, Chip Harris and Jack Levine all received shares of the legal fees from the cases.
But Levine, staggering under the massive fees awarded against him and the damage done to his practice by the ongoing cases, has filed for personal bankruptcy.
His professional ruin may soon be complete, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on his suspension.
What does Levine think of it all? It's put me into bankruptcy. It's cost me in the neighborhood of $150,000 in legal fees. It has taken up at least one-third of my time for the last ten years. It's been terribly hard on my wife," Levine says.
But still, he says, I'm proud of what I've done."
Abril was a client with a legitimate question that begged to be answered, Levine says. He pursued every avenue to do that. Isn't that what the courts are supposed to be for?
No discussion of Jack Levine seems to end without a comparison to Don Quixote. He likes the analogy himself.
I love to tilt at windmills," he says. And I get a real big kick out of beating a windmill."
In his play They Might Be Giants, author James Goldman created a character named Justin, a former judge who believes he's Sherlock Holmes and is not averse to taking on the impossible fight.
At one point, Justin's psychiatrist tells him, You're just like Don QuixoteÏyou think everything's always something else."
Well," Justin replies. He had a point. Of course, he carried it a bit too far, that's all. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But thinking that they might be. Well... ."
Jack Levine worries more than others about the windmills that might be giants.
Three times before-with J. Edgar Hoover, the Arizona State Bar and U.S. Senator Paul FanninÏhe has been right. Maybe he has beaten more than his share.
This time, he is losing, and learning that the luster of a triumphant knight fades quickly in defeat.
Corinne Levine candidly acknowledges that her husband cannot realistically comprehend what he has done. The financial and emotional strain of Levine's ordeals prompted her to throw him out for a while, but now they are back together.
Her frustration captures the underlying sadness of Levine's fall.
Part of me is fiercely proud of him, and part of me could cheerfully strangle him," she says.
Deep down inside, I know he's right. I don't like the consequences of his actions, but a crazy part of me has tremendous respect for him.
What is to be served by Jack being suspended for three years? He is hardly a threat to the public. How does that serve any purpose but vindictiveness? Jack has really hurt no one but himself. It makes no sense."
Corinne Levine thinks perhaps her husband should have lived in another time. One attorney, well-placed to view the scene, is less generous in his assessment.
If you are an idealist, and you are naive," he says, the world can be very unkind."
part 4 of 4
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