Bar delays action in complaint against man accused of unlawful practice

By Lawrence Smith | Aug 1, 2008

CHARLESTON – Despite the state Bar postponing action on a complaint it received for alleged unauthorized practice of law, a Hampshire County man now knows the identity of his accuser.

During its regularly scheduled meeting on July 10, the Bar's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee had before it a complaint alleging Fred Schermerhorn of Springfield was practicing law in the state without a license. After receiving a letter dated June 25 from Anita Casey, the Bar's executive director, about the Committee's inquiry, Schermerhorn, in a letter dated July 1, denied the allegation, and asked to see a copy of the complaint.

So as to give him ample opportunity to see the complaint and provide time for an adequate reply, the Committee voted to table any further action until its next meeting on October 10, said Ned Rose, the committee's chairman.

However, the committee did approve the minutes from its last meeting on April 23. According to the minutes, Sally G. Jackson, a family law judge in the 24th Family Law Circuit was the one who lodged the complaint against Schermerhorn.

The 24th Circuit includes Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Jackson, 52, serves in the circuit's 2nd Division.

When he found out it was Jackson who lodged the complaint against him, Schermerhorn said he wasn't surprised. Jackson was next on his list of suspects behind Kelley Kuhn, a Keyser attorney who was his ex-wife's attorney in their divorce.

In an interview with The West Virginia Record, Schermerhorn first believed Kuhn filed the complaint in retaliation to a complaint he filed against her with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, last year. However, Kuhn denied filing the complaint against Schermerhorn.

Though he was yet to see the complaint, Schermerhorn said Casey contacted him recently, and confirmed his suspicion that it arose from a letter-to-the-editor he wrote earlier this year. According to Casey, the letter-to-the-editor in question was published in the Jan. 10 issue of The Journal in Martinsburg.

The letter, which is still available on The Journal's Web site, is titled "Divorcing? Call MAWAD." Schermerhorn, who serves on a voluntary basis as the Region III coordinator for the Vienna-based children's advocacy group Men and Women Against Discrimination, took the occasion to educate the public about MAWAD's push for equal parenting in child custody arrangements.

"Even through West Virginia family courts, standard visitation only allows children to be physically involved with the non-custodial parent 80 hours per month out of the 720 hours in a month," Schermerhorn wrote.

"This is 11 percent of that child's living and breathing life."

The part of the letter-to-the-editor which was the basis for Jackson's complaint is the final paragraph were Schermerhorn encourages "anyone going through the tragedy of divorce with children" to contact him. He concludes by saying "I as well as numerous members are knowledgeable of the divorce laws and could possibly give better advice than some high-dollar attorneys."

In giving "advice," Schermerhorn said he never intend that to mean legal. Rather, from personal experience, his advice is for people going through divorce to research the laws on child custody, and make a concerted effort to settle their disputes before going to court and enriching the "divorce industry."

"That way, if they have any questions about the laws pertaining to their case they can question their attorney," Schermerhorn said.
Ten days after it published Schermerhorn's, The Journal published a reply from Jackson titled "Letter spread misinformation." In her letter-to-the-editor, Jackson refuted that state Code only grants "alternate weekend" to non-custodial parents.

"Laws in West Virginia are very flexible when it comes to granting parents custodial time," Jackson said.

"It is not true that parents cannot request for and receive time on all holidays and their children's birthdays and special events. I have never refused a parent's request to have time on a child's birthday if it has been requested."

When reached for a comment on why she decided to lodge the complaint against Schermerhorn after rebutting his claims, Jackson said, "I don't think I can comment on that."

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