Suspended lawyer’s cases begin to transfer

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 06:31 PM

A Henderson criminal defense attorney’s case load that includes numerous defendants against serious felony charges is being transferred to other attorneys, and some delays are expected in the prosecution process, according to District Attorney Sam Currin.

The North Carolina State Bar suspended the state law license of Steven B. DeCillis effective Aug. 2, Currin said, and that gives court officials 17 more business days to get more than a dozen serious felony cases into the hands of new attorneys who will have to then study the particular facts of each one.

The bar shuttered DeCillis’ law practice effective for the next five years because of a sex scandal that included resulting conflicts of interest. He can apply for reinstatement in three years.

“In other words, he’s shut down,” Currin said.

Currin said that the aim of his office staff is to make sure there are no prosecutorial errors in the required process for finding new defense attorneys in cases for which DeCillis is the retained council.

“He is supposed to resign from them,” Currin said. “The state bar will assist him in doing that. My office is going to ask him to return any money if he’s retained, and the court needs to appoint new attorneys on felony cases.”

Currin said with the potential for complaints in every criminal case, and the added tension of serious felony cases such as murder, he is determined to make sure all transfers to new attorneys takes place with the full cooperation of his office.

“I can’t stop there being complaints, but I can stop being a part of that complaint problem,” Currin said.

Some cases had already been transferred as of Monday. Attorney David R. Waters said he picked up two of DeCillis’ cases while tending to other business at the Vance County Courthouse.

“The transfer follows constitutionally mandated guidelines to ensure adequate representation,” Waters said. “It takes typically a few weeks to become familiarized to any one case. Depending on whether a case has a hearing coming up, there may be a delay.”

Waters said it is not enough for an attorney to be simply familiar with the law in general, but they must also be familiar with the particulars of the individual case in order to be proficient in the proper application of the law.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Griffin said with the way court cases are scheduled, a case transferred that has a hearing due soon could be delayed by several months.

“It usually requires the new attorney to investigate and prepare,” Griffin said. “That normally includes a delay of several months for those cases.”

Currin said that he sympathizes with victims in the cases, who along with his prosecutors will be enduring the delay of some important cases.

“I am sure they want to see these cases cleared sooner,” he said, adding that everyone impacted by the transfers would have to endure some inconvenience, or for victims, even some anguish.

“I am sure that is the case for some,” Currin said. “We’re talking about a number of cases that are felonies, more than a dozen.”

According to Currin, the order for DeCillis’ suspension includes instructions for the transfers.

As a matter of law nationally, DeCillis can not practice law in any other state while his license to practice is suspended in North Carolina, Currin said.

Currin said the state bar’s disciplinary committee meets quarterly, and the number of attorneys disbarred or suspended pans out to several each month statewide. He said it is rare to see disciplinary action against a criminal defense attorney.

According to the order document signed June 28 by M.H. Hood Ellis, chairman of the hearing panel for the state bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission, a conflict of interest followed a sexual relationship that DeCillis initiated with a woman his client was suing following a March 19, 2010, vehicle crash.

According to the order, DeCillis also began to represent the woman on at least three additional legal matters while the case against her by his original client continued pending court action.

The commission concluded that DeCillis’ decisions were evidence of a lack of judgment, trustworthiness and integrity that compromised his loyalty and independent judgment.

“The judgment was a compromise,” Currin said.

The suspension is the next highest action the commission could have taken, short of disbarment.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.