CHARLESTON – Three years ago Hiram C. Lewis IV was disciplined for inappropriate comments he made about a judge's decision.
The Lawyer Disciplinary Board on June 10, 2009, voted to admonish Lewis for comments he made two years earlier in a newspaper that Wetzel Circuit Judge John T. Madden showed favoritism to the Attorney General's Office in a suit it filed to stop Iams Funeral Home from selling pre-need funeral contracts. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel initiated the complaint against Lewis a year later.
In the May 2, 2007, edition of the Moundsville Daily Echo, Lewis said the AG's Office erred in filing suit against Iams without first holding an administrative hearing. Madden's failure to dismiss the suit, Lewis said, demonstrated favoritism toward the AG's Office, and would ultimately be overturned on appeal.
"We strongly believe that the five legal scholars on the West Virginia Supreme Court will agree that the plain language of the statute requires an administrative hearing prior to commencing a civil action," Lewis said in a prepared statement.
"The patently unfair action by Judge Madden and the Attorney General's Office is a perfect example of what is wrong with this state," he added. "It is why West Virginia ranks dead last in legal cliamate and cost to do business. There exists one justice system for friends of the Attorney General and one for anyone that questions the improper actions of the Office."
Lewis, who unsuccessfully challenged Darrell McGraw for Attorney General in 2004, filed an appeal of Madden's decision to the state Supreme Court in September 2008 which declined to hear it on Nov. 12. A motion to reconsider Lewis filed the next month was denied in January 2009.
The Board's investigative panel concluded that Lewis violated Rule 8.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct which prohibits an attorney from making a "'statement that the lawyer knows to be false with reckless regard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge ...'" The panel said there is "no credible evidence to support that [Lewis] had reason to believe that Judge Madden made a decision based on any proper motives or any perceived improper relationship with the Attorney General."
"To baselessly imply that a presiding judicial officer made a decision not based in law," the panel added, "but based on a twisted perversion of justice for a certain segment of society is reckless. The statements made about Judge Madden were unwarranted, improper and recklessly impugned the integrity of Judge Madden and had the effect of causing confusion of the public's perception of the law and the judicial system."
In response to ODC's complaint, Lewis maintained his comments about the state's legal system were protected speech, but understood their concern. As a result, Lewis pledged "he would refrain from making such statements publically in the future."
The admonishment was the first disciplinary action taken against Lewis since his admission to the Bar on Oct. 10, 2001.