Was the Hearing Officer too Sarcastic?

Either way, judge calls for a re-do.

On Jan. 30, the Washington State Bar's disciplinary board vacated a hearing officer's recommendation that Alfoster Garrett Jr., the onetime head of the NAACP's Seattle branch, should be disbarred for co-mingling of client and personal funds (among other misdeeds), and ordered a new hearing. It is only the second time in recent memory that such a ruling has occurred, according to bar spokesperson Judy Berrett. In justifying its action, the board cited hearing officer David Klein Hiscock's "persistent pattern of sarcasm and hostility against the Respondent's counsel." "How far are we going to spool this out?" Hiscock asked Garrett's attorney, Lembhard Howell, during the five-day hearing last April. But that was after Howell began an interrogation of a witness on the topic of...Howell. The witness, a onetime NAACP member named Eric Dawson, had expressed his distaste for Howell as well as his client. "Do you know I'm a Life Heritage Member of the NAACP?" Howell asked, among numerous other questions. Hiscock also rebuked Howell when he interrogated another estranged NAACP member, Sakara Remmu, at length about her son's death. "Driving a witness to tears by bringing up the loss of her child may not be doing the client he's currently representing very much good," the hearing examiner told Howell. (Remmu's response was to lash out at Garrett, whom she called "a predator.") Indeed, the most striking thing about the hearing was the spectacular level of dysfunction, distrust, and conspiracy theories that were on display. While questioning Remmu, Howell produced some pictures of Garrett, whose eye was swollen and bloodied from what Howell said had been an assault. Amid the chaos that ensued, Remmu told the hearing officer that Garrett had been falsely telling people that she tried to have him murdered. Howell didn't actually make that accusation himself, and Hiscock said in written findings that he saw no evidence of such. The only relevant police report concerns an assault in 2004, shortly before Garrett became NAACP president, when four men jumped out of a white sedan in Belltown and punched Garrett and another fellow walking down the street. No arrests were made. Another witness, a lawyer named Karim Hamir, testified about a 2005 letter he had written to Garrett warning him of what he took to be threats on Garrett's life. "In the course of any of this deep emotional concern that you were experiencing...did your fingers get to the telephone to contact any law-enforcement agency?" Hiscock asked. "No," Hamir replied.

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