Lowering the bar of the bar

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 18, 2011

As one famous lawyer of literature observed, "The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven."

We don't want to strain mercy, but we're not sure we want it coming down in buckets.

Last month, the state Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the law license of Michael P. Markins, who'd been suspended for hacking into the e-mail server of a rival law firm.

Granted, there were extenuating circumstances. Markins' wife worked at the rival firm. The troubled husband initially hacked into the server to read her e-mail and look for evidence of a suspected affair.

But Markins' curiosity didn't stop there. He started reading the e-mails of other attorneys and accessed confidential financial information. Eventually, the firm discovered the breach and the hacker. Markins and his wife subsequently were fired from their firms.

Because he cooperated fully with investigations of his actions and expressed remorse, the Lawyer Disciplinary Board recommended that the Court suspend Markins for only two years, provided he take 12 hours of continuing legal education and agree to one year's supervision of his resuscitated practice.

We're all for giving a guy a break, cutting some slack if he admits his mistake and truly rues it. Forgive and forget, that's our motto.

But reinstating an attorney two years after he's been disbarred for gross ethical violations seems misguided. How much is too much mercy?

Is there such a shortage of lawyers here in West Virginia that we need to lower the standards so dramatically? Should our state bar effectively endorse an attorney who's demonstrated such bad judgment and thereby recommend him to prospective clients? Is this the message we want to send to other lawyers contemplating illegal or unethical activities?

We wish Mike Markins well and hope the rest of his life works out better, but we'd prefer that he pursue a more appropriate profession -- perhaps as a computer programmer.

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