Lawyer thought fake-client tactic was an acceptable strategy, she tells disciplinary commission
A North Carolina lawyer told a disciplinary commission that she thought that substituting a litigant for her criminal client during an arraignment was “an acceptable strategy.” Image from Shutterstock.
A North Carolina lawyer told a disciplinary commission that she thought that substituting a litigant for her criminal client during an arraignment was “an acceptable strategy.”
Phair was representing a client in an alleged hit-and-run accident in Lee County, North Carolina, during the June 2022 hearing, according to the June 30, 2023, complaint by the North Carolina State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission. The victim was required to identify the defendant.
Shortly before the hearing began, Phair asked her client to leave the courtroom with her and to remain in the lobby. Phair then went to an adjacent courtroom and found a child-support litigant. Phair asked the litigant to do her a favor and to stand beside her in court to see whether someone could pick him out.
When the judge asked Phair and her “client” to approach the bench to discuss a possible plea agreement, Phair left the fake client at the defense table, the commission alleged. Phair said she didn’t want to discuss a plea because she did not think that the witnesses could identify her client, according to the complaint.
A lunch recess was called. As it began, the prosecutor and judge discovered that the litigant may not have been the criminal defendant. When the judge inquired, Phair said in her response, she disclosed the tactic.
Phair is also accused of providing differing explanations for arriving two hours late for a hearing. In her response, Phair said she is “very sorry for not returning to court on time. She had an emergency and good reason for returning to court late.”
Phair is asking a disciplinary hearing panel to recognize “her desire to represent clients zealously and her cooperation with clients and the court.”
She is requesting dismissal of the ethics complaint or discipline that allows her to continue practicing law.
Phair did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment made by email and in a phone message.