On Thursday, February 15, 2024, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility Ad Hoc Hearing Committee recommended the disbarment of attorney Joseph Owens after finding that he violated numerous rules of professional conduct and intentionally misappropriated client funds while representing a client seeking a security clearance.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Joseph Owens,” with case no. 21-BD-058.

The charges cited District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4(a), 1.15(c), and 1.15(a).

The case stemmed from Owens’ representation of Yuri Joselson in 2017 during a security clearance proceeding at the Defense Department’s Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA). Joselson had been denied a security clearance and appealed the decision to DOHA. He hired Owens, who is a member of both the D.C. and Maryland bars, to represent him. However, Joselson terminated Owens’ representation in October 2017 before the DOHA hearing took place, claiming Owens had not meaningfully worked on the case.

At a multi-day hearing in March and April 2023, the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee considered the evidence presented by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Owens regarding the allegations. Disciplinary Counsel alleged that Owens violated rules related to communicating with the client, record-keeping of client funds, providing an accounting, and dishonest conduct.

In its 101-page report, the committee found that Disciplinary Counsel proved by clear and convincing evidence that Owens violated rules related to communicating with the client, providing an accounting, and record-keeping of client funds. Notably, the committee concluded Owens intentionally misappropriated client funds in violation of the rules. While Owens claimed the $4,000 paid by Joselson was a flat fee, the committee determined a significant portion was unearned when Owens withdrew the full amount from his attorney trust account in May 2017, only a few months into the representation and long before the DOHA hearing took place.

The committee also considered Owens’ testimony in related litigation in Maryland, where he admitted to not keeping records of his billable hours or how fees were earned. This contradicted his claims in the disciplinary proceeding. As a sanction, the committee recommended disbarment, the most serious sanction short of permanent disbarment, noting Owens’ conduct involved intentional misappropriation of client funds.

Owens has the right to file exceptions with the D.C. Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility to challenge the ad hoc committee’s findings and recommendations. The Board would then issue a final decision subject to further review by the D.C. Court of Appeals. If no exceptions are filed or the Board upholds the disbarment recommendation, Owens would lose his license to practice law in D.C.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.