October 13, 2013
In June 2013, attorney Stephen Woodruff was disbarred for 44 violations of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The 28-page ruling by Associate Superior Court Judge David Wiseman details the violations and blatant incompetent behavior that involved nine clients. The clients who retained by Woodruff suffered because he failed to deliver. They filed complaints with the CNMI Bar Association's disciplinary committee.
The court determined:
"Mr. Woodruff has a history of failing to appear as ordered, of failing to observe rules of court, of missing deadlines, of receiving attorney's fees and application fees and then filing the applications late, in the wrong place, or not at all, of not communicating with clients to keep them reasonably informed of the status of their matters between them, of taking aggressive action toward one of his clients by threatening to call police if she kept appearing at his office to inquire as to the status of her legal matter, of misrepresenting facts to clients such as the divorce decree for [name of client], not showing up for a trial and having the case dismissed with prejudice and miscellaneous other profession shortcomings as detailed above."The complaint states that Woodruff has violated professional conduct in more than one court. In the U.S. District Court there are 25 different types of adverse actions taken on Woodruff for his incompetence and non-diligence. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed three cases because Woodruff failed to file an opening brief. The Commonwealth Court of Appeals dismissed two cases for untimely filing.
The U.S. District Court required Woodruff to notify the court in writing each month of progress of his disciplinary matters. He failed to comply and was ordered to appear in court on October 11, 2013 to show cause why he should not be fined and jailed.
Only hours prior to the U.S. District Court hearing, Woodruff finally filed required reports. In the end, U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona let the attorney off with a mild scolding:
A letter presented to the court by one of Woodruff's victims:
Woodruff has denied his negligence and, as far as I know, has not apologized to his many victims who have never been made whole and probably never will be. Instead of being humbled by this wake-up call and attempting to correct his harmful negligence, Woodruff has shown arrogance and acted defensively, even lashing out at the judges. He attempted unsuccessfully to have judges recused from his case, as the documents indicate.
It is disappointing that so many rogue attorneys have preyed on innocent foreign workers. Woodruff is certainly not the first. (I wish I had even half of the money I paid to former attorney Dennis O'Shea on behalf of dozens of foreign workers who he victimized in the 1990's.)
If the CNMI Bar Association did their job perhaps some innocent victims could have been spared. But then again, has this organization of legal professionals disbarred former notorious CNMI Attorney General Edward Buckingham? Did it even investigate the sidesteps of CNMI Chief Prosecutor Shelli Neal? The loudest noise is the CNMI has always been the swish of garbage being swept under the rug.