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Lawyer Suspended for Lying About Taking Two CLE Courses Simultaneously

By Steven Ellison, Esq. | Last updated on

Don't lie to the bar.

This goes without saying for the vast majority of lawyers. But sheer chutzpah can sometimes distinguish a particularly creative fibber. For those few, a gentle reminder that the folks at the lawyer's professional responsibility board aren't idiots might be timely.

Case in point: lying about continuing legal education credits. A New England lawyer recently learned the hard way that that is, in fact, a no-no.

States have different rules establishing what is required of lawyers to maintain their law licenses. Among these requirements is continuing legal education (CLE). States impose mandatory minimum hourly CLE reporting obligations. This ensures that lawyers stay abreast of developments in their practice areas and provides an opportunity for them to create professional relationships with other practicing attorneys. Both make them better able to serve clients and uphold the standards of the bar.

The CLE minimum reporting requirements aren't that hard to meet. Most states require between 12 and 15 hours of CLE every year. Many states allow you to report your hours every three years, so that if you have a particularly busy year, you can make up the hours the next year. And if you are still having difficulty getting your time in, you can usually ask the bar for an extension.

There are also any number of ways you can fulfill your CLE obligations. Many states give you CLE credit for hours you spent representing people in marginalized communities for free. Although all CLE seminars used to be in person, more and more states, especially in the wake of COVID-19, have moved online. You can watch them live or on demand. You lose the camaraderie of an in-person seminar, but the convenience of being able to watch a CLE during your off hours is hard to beat.

Easy, right?

Board of Overseers v. Buckley

But there's always someone who tries to cut corners. Take a recent example that falls into the “How stupid do you think we are?" category. Jason R. Buckley, Esquire, of Bloomfield, Connecticut managed to get his Maine law license suspended for a year because of his, shall we say, “creative" interpretation of the CLE rules.

According to the disciplinary order, Mr. Buckley was licensed in Maine in 2007. His license was administratively suspended in 2020. The order isn't clear about why, but you really can't read anything into that. What is important for our purposes is that if you undergo administrative suspension, you can't practice law until you get your license reinstated. That typically requires paying any outstanding license fees, taking a bunch of CLEs, and reporting your CLE hours to the bar. Again, easy, right?

Do You Have a Clone?

And now we get to what we will charitably call “corner cutting." In 2023, Mr. Buckley submitted proof of his CLE credits to the Board of Overseers. Whoever was handling his file caught that in his report, he claimed to have watched two live webcasts on June 16, 2022. At the same time.

Kudos to the person who caught the discrepancy. Through a complaint, the bar asked Mr. Buckley about it, and he responded that he watched the programs simultaneously, one on his computer and the other on his iPad. He said he didn't realize that attending multiple CLEs at the same time violated the professional rules of conduct.

Say it with me: “How stupid do you think we are?"

We're Not Fools

The bar didn't buy it either. They investigated further and found that this wasn't a one-off for Mr. Buckley. In fact, he reported that on June 17, 2022, the very next day, he attended a live online CLE program for 4:40 hours beginning at 12:39 p.m. and watched an on-demand CLE beginning at 1:06 p.m. that ran for 6:39 hours. So two CLEs at the same time.

The bar leveled a formal disciplinary charge against Mr. Buckley. He defaulted (meaning he didn't respond), so the allegations in the charge were deemed admitted. Justice Thomas McKeon, on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, suspended Mr. Buckley's law license for a year. Justice McKeon does not say what really doesn't need to be said — lawyers should know better than reporting that they took multiple CLEs at the same time — and jumps right to a discussion about the appropriate sanction.

In deciding on the suspension, Justice McKeon considered four factors, including whether Buckley violated a duty owed to a client, the public, the legal system, or the profession; whether he acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently; the amount of the actual or potential injury caused by his misconduct; and the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors. Justice McKeon found that Mr. Buckley's failure to accept responsibility, coupled with harm done to the public and the profession through his intentional or knowing misconduct, warranted the one-year suspension.

Lesson Learned?

You can debate which of Mr. Buckley's offenses was worse: the lies in his CLE report or his apparent belief that he could get away with it. Given how brazen these offenses were, Mr. Buckley may have gotten off lucky with just a one-year suspension.

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