A skeleton or two in Ms. Bucknam’s closet (UPDATED)

On Friday afternoon, we learned that Saint Johnsbury-based attorney Deb Bucknam had declared her candidacy for Attorney General on the Republican ticket, thus assuring the VTGOP of at least token representation in the race against Democrat TJ Donovan.

At the time, I noted the trail of online writings that reveal Ms. Bucknam to be a hard-right conservative who doesn’t believe in public education or global warming, wants to privatize Social Security, and thinks Calvin Coolidge was a great president. Among other things.

Well, a VPO commenter has disclosed a potentially disqualifying item in Bucknam’s legal career: back in 1992, her law license was suspended for 30 days* and she served a further one-year probationary period for “a pattern of misconduct” that encompassed “multiople offenses” including “outright lying to clients” and “chang[ing] the fee arrangement” without prior agreement with the clients. (All quotes from the Professional Conduct Board’s Notice of Decision, PCB File 89.53.)

*Note: Bucknam posted a Comment (below) letting us know that her suspension was overturned by the Vermont Supreme Court; she was instead “reprimanded and placed on probation,” she says. My own searches did not uncover any mention of the Supreme Court action. The facts of the case otherwise remain the same.

In addition to the suspension, the Board also ordered Bucknam to complete a “professional responsibility exam” and reimburse the clients for fees and expenses she had imposed. And, of course, warned her (in lawyer lingo) to Go Forth And Sin No More.

The case is long and complicated, but the essence is this: Bucknam agreed to represent, on a contingency basis, a man who had suffered a workplace injury. Over the course of time, she began to charge him for expenses, advised him to launch a second lawsuit against a different employer (which was dismissed), failed to keep up communication with her client, started billing him for legal fees, and ultimately withdrew from the case because he couldn’t pay her bills. The client says that all legal fees and expenses were to be paid at the conclusion of the case.

Okay, well, that was a long time ago. Perhaps she Went And Sinned No More.

There is, however, a much more recent lawsuit against Bucknam. She represented two clients in a 2011 child-custody case which was ultimately lost. They sued Bucknam in 2014. Last year, the case was partially dismissed, but the remaining case appears to be pending.

Okay, well, that’s two blots on a lengthy escutcheon. I don’t know if there are any other examples of professional misconduct by Bucknam or any other clients dissatisfied enough to take her to court. But the legal world in Vermont is a small place; we shall see if anything else emerges.

In the meantime, the voters can make their own judgments on whether they want their next Attorney General to be a lawyer whose license was once suspended for professional misconduct.

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3 thoughts on “A skeleton or two in Ms. Bucknam’s closet (UPDATED)

  1. Brooke Paige

    We’ll Have to See Who Has The Bigger Stack of “Bones” in the Closet !

    By Real World standards this doesn’t look good, however Deb Bucknam will be judged by the “Wild Willy” Sorrell standard where self examination and self evaluation are the usual fare.

    A/G Sorrell’s dubious record of SCOTUS misadventures and campaign “missteps” (realists will wish to insert violations) and a general abandonment of important duties relating to the offices “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” duties.

    In recent months A/G Sorrell himself was the subject of a professional misconduct complaint filed with the Bar Council’s Office and the state Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility relating to his persecution of public advocate Annette Smith – an action that was quickly swept “under the rug” once Sorrell decided the action against Smith was becoming too politically costly to continue. (Note that Deb Bucknam was one of chief critics in the Sorrell/Smith affair. She was not the complainant in the Bar Council action.)

    Well, “TJ” has a primary opponent to polish off before he gets his shot at Deb – of course “TJ” has his own skeletons in the closet as well; so we’ll have to see which stack of “bones” is the most damaging. One thing is certain – none of the candidates will have as big stack of “bones” (or boners) as the incumbent Eternal General, Wild Willy Sorrell.

    Reply
  2. Deborah Bucknam

    Just a quick response: this is a small state, so its great to have a conversation. I was never suspended from the practice of law; the Supreme Court reversed that decision. I was reprimanded and placed on probation, however; so you were right about that. It involved incidents in 1989. I made the initial complaint public immediately, even though it was confidential–as I think we should be as transparent as possible; I believe I am the only lawyer who has ever done that. I learned a lot from what I did that resulted in disciplinary action: I learned that though I thought I was a good person, I could get caught up in my own anger and self regard and not see the picture from the other side. I learned that we all need to be held accountable, no matter how good or well meaning we are. I now do not hesitate to contact Mike Kennedy, disciplinary counsel, when I have an issue I need sound advice on. He, by the way, is a great resource for lawyers. Thank you for the post. I think you listed most of the skeletons in my closet; but since I am age 69 and human, there may be a few more. I invite you to visit me, and we can have a talk about my views. We may be less far apart than you think.

    Reply

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