A former Spokane District Court judge who went back to private practice has been suspended indefinitely by the state bar association.
Bar association attorney Leslie Allen, who investigated Charles S. Dorn, has recommended that Dorn be disbarred.
Her recommendation has been forwarded to a hearing officer with the state bar association for further review, according to Judith Berrett, the bar's director of member and community relations.
Dorn, who was elected to the District Court bench and served from 1978 to 1990, is accused of representing clients without a license and not returning valuables to them.
Phillip "Dutch" Wetzel, Dorn's attorney, declined to comment about the case. Dorn, 67, could not be reached for comment.
In his written response, Dorn admits he represented clients without a license but says it was only because he didn't know he was suspended. He cites personal and professional issues as the cause.
Dorn was notified by mail that he was suspended from practicing law because he failed to pay his bar association dues, records say. According to records, Dorn blames a traumatic divorce and the loss of a business partner for the delinquency.
"All my bar association mail from the past two years -- and much of my other mail -- remains unopened," Dorn said in a written response to the bar association. "I did not know you could be suspended for not paying dues, though I knew there was a substantial penalty."
Records say that in March or April of 2001, James Irons and Tamia Kimball hired Dorn to defend Kimball against federal drug charges. They paid Dorn $8,000 to represent her, the bar association alleges.
At roughly the same time, Dorn was sent a letter from the bar association informing him that he'd be suspended if he didn't pay his bar dues, the bar alleges.
After no response from Dorn, on July 24, 2001, the Washington state Supreme Court officially suspended Dorn, records show.
Despite the suspension, the bar association alleges that Dorn continued to represent Kimball in her case. Dorn tried to persuade Kimball to plead guilty but she refused to do so, records say.
Kimball was re-arrested for violating her release conditions, at which time Dorn visited Kimball in jail and again urged her to take the plea agreement, the bar association alleges. Kimball refused again and then fired Dorn, records say.
Dorn said he had no idea that he'd been suspended from practicing law, records say.
"My partner of many years left in 1999 for a job with the prosecutor on short notice and I had some of his cases to finish," Dorn wrote. "I could not financially carry the office and I had no secretary or employees."
Toward the end of 2000, Dorn said, he was in the midst of a divorce. Other cases were pending and Dorn said he became overwhelmed.
The bar association also alleges that Dorn failed to return personal property belonging to Kimball and Irons. Dorn retrieved the items at their request after they were jailed, the bar alleges.
After Kimball and Irons hired an attorney to sue Dorn, a judge issued a default judgment against him and ordered him to pay Kimball and Irons more than $27,000, say Spokane Superior Court records.
Dorn denies those allegations. ĽKevin Blocker can be reached at (509) 459-5513 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.