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2-month license suspension for Blacksburg lawyer with attendance, money-handling problems

2-month license suspension for Blacksburg lawyer with attendance, money-handling problems

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Attorney Jonathan Preston Fisher, who faces what one expert in legal ethics called an “extraordinary” number of contempt of court charges, has said he’s learning from his mistakes.

Jonathan Preston Fisher, a Blacksburg attorney whose failures to appear for court drew attention from judges across the New River and Roanoke valleys and beyond, on Friday had his law license temporarily suspended by the Virginia State Bar.

Fisher, 44, was cited by the bar for a series of problems with 10 clients he represented, including missing hearings and not properly handling clients’ money. Bar investigators found that some of his clients were convicted after Fisher did not show up to defend them and that he had not properly held money in a trust account until he completed work for a client as attorneys are required to do.

Fisher’s license to practice law was suspended for 60 days beginning Feb. 1. It will be reinstated as long as Fisher completes a program he began this month with the Virginia Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, and if he agrees that for three years, bar officials may make quarterly inspections of his financial records.

Carolyn Grady, the chairwoman of a five-attorney disciplinary panel, said that Fisher also should review Virginia’s rules for attorney’s fee structures and adjust his own accordingly.

If there were further violations, Grady said, the bar could suspend his license for up to two years longer.

Fisher ran afoul of numerous judges in recent years for missing hearings, racking up more than a dozen contempt of court charges that were eventually dismissed. In March 2019, Fisher was assessed $600 in fines and sanctions after a Floyd County incident in which he swore at a prosecutor and threatened to sue the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

The matters cited by the bar occurred between September 2018 and February 2019 in courts in Roanoke, Salem, Montgomery County, Roanoke County, Botetourt County and Giles County. Paid to represent clients on charges that included intoxicated driving, traffic violations and criminal offenses, Fisher missed hearings, failed to inform clients they had been convicted in absentia, and did not file appeals that he had said he would, the bar found.

In paperwork filed with the bar and in testimony during an all-day online hearing, Fisher admitted most of the violations and attributed them to medical problems. Fisher presented doctors’ records documenting his osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which has led him to suffer dozens of broken bones since childhood.

Fisher said he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from all the injuries, and also with attention deficit disorder. He said that since 2019, he has been prescribed medication for these, and been in counseling, and that the treatment brought a great improvement in his quality of life and ability to handle his law practice.

“I’m glad I feel better. I’m glad I’m able to do things the way they need to be done,” Fisher told the review panel.

To prevent more financial violations, Fisher said that in 2019, he started a new accounting method to track his handling clients’ money and that it has worked well. He shared records of his recent accounts with the review panel.

And Fisher said he was doing better with his calendar, and with showing up for court, partly because he had scaled back his practice. Once widely advertised as an intoxicated-driving specialist who took cases across Virginia, Fisher said he now focuses almost totally on traffic charges and handles five to 10 cases per week instead of the 10 to 12 per day that he said his firm used to handle.

Fisher said that he now works without a staff or associates.

Attorney Paul Georgiadis of Chesterfield County, who represented Fisher at the hearing, said that Fisher had not intended to miss hearings and mishandle money, and said Fisher should get credit for admitting his problems.

But Ed Dillon, the attorney representing the bar, said that Fisher had failed to meet requirements of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program as recently as two weeks ago and still had not refunded money owed to some clients.

“You have the same violations over and over … The issue is public protection,” Dillon said.

Dillon recommended a six- to nine-month suspension for Fisher.

After announcing Fisher’s penalty, Grady said the bar wished him well and hoped he never had to appear in front of a disciplinary panel again. Fisher thanked the panel members.

“I really feel like I got a fair hearing, genuinely,” Fisher said.

 

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