Deairich “Dee” Hunter, who is vying for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, has been hit with ethics charges by the D.C. Bar Counsel.
According to the Bar’s specification of charges—filed on June 25 but made public Sept. 8—Hunter is accused of improperly handling the settlement proceeds in three separate personal injury cases. In two of those cases, the bar counsel alleges that Hunter entered into settlement agreements without his clients’ knowledge, signed his clients’ names on the settlement checks, and then kept the proceeds.
Bar counsel accuses Hunter of violating a number of ethical rules, including committing criminal acts (forgery and theft), misappropriating funds, failing to maintain complete and accurate financial records, and “engaging in conduct that involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit and/or misrepresentation.” The charges carry a maximum penalty of disbarment.
Hunter, who is licensed to practice law in D.C. and Maryland, is a longtime community activist and former aid to council member David Catania and former council member William Lightfoot. Hunter is running as an independent for the at-large seat held by Carol Schwartz. The campaign pits him against Republican Patrick Mara, who defeated Schwartz in last week's primary, and independents Michael Brown and Mark Long. Schwartz also remains in the race as a write-in candidate.
In an interview with Legal Times, Hunter disputes the charges and says they will be proven to be untrue once the Board on Professional Responsibility’s Hearing Committee hears from him.
“These allegations are completely, absolutely, 100 percent untrue,” Hunter said. “It's hard to think it's a coincidence that they're coming out days before the election. After the hearing, it will be clear that I've done nothing wrong.”
According to the bar counsel charges, Hunter represented Wendell Hunter (who is not related to Deairich) when he was injured in a car accident in 2000. In April 2002, the case was settled with Allstate Insurance for $7,000, an amount that bar counsel claims would barely cover the client’s medical expenses. Deairich Hunter then deposited the settlement check into an account from which he was supposed to pay his client’s doctors and another lawyer who also worked on the case.
According to bar counsel, Hunter began withdrawing funds by writing checks made payable to cash, which made it “impossible to trace Mr. [Wendell] Hunter’s settlement funds.” For the next two years, Hunter failed to pay any of his client’s medical bills, the bar counsel charges state.
In the second case detailed in the bar counsel charging document, Hunter represented Paulette Wright who had been injured in a car accident. Hunter settled the matter with GEICO in 2004 for $15,775 without approval from his client. According to the ethics charges, Hunter “caused Ms. Wright’s name to be signed on the check, and signed his name on the check,” which he then deposited into his law firm’s client trust account. Bar counsel alleges Hunter never told Wright about the settlement and never sent her—or her medical providers—any money.
In the third case, Hunter represented Idella Gaymon, who had been injured along with two of her children in a car accident in North Carolina. The bar counsel alleges that Hunter settled the matter with Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. in 2005 for $6,200 without the approval of Gaymon. Hunter then “caused Ms. Gaymon’s name to be endorsed on the three settlement checks,” which he then deposited into a law firm account. On Aug. 15, 2005, Gaymon complained to bar counsel that Hunter had not communicated with her for more than a year and that she had learned from Liberty Mutual that her matter had been settled. One week later, Hunter sent Gaymon a check for $3,000.
Hunter declined to go into detail about the bar counsel charges, saying only when dealing with a heavy caseload “sometimes things fall through the cracks.”
“In my career, I've had times where I had a caseload of hundreds of cases,” Hunter says. “I was acting as attorney, paralegal, secretary, bookkeeper, and file clerk. Under these circumstances, did I make some mistakes? Yes. Did I ever do anything intentionally wrong? Never.”