Updated 5/11/12 at 2:14 p.m.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Jose Lopez today convicted Benoit Brookens, 62, of contempt of court for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
Brookens has never been a member of the D.C. Bar, but, according to court filings, maintained an office in Washington starting in the late 1970s. In a 1988 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ordered Brookens to stop practicing law and advertising himself publicly as an attorney licensed to practice in the District.
According to a press release today from the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, however, Brookens continued to practice over the next two decades "despite the court's orders, and multiple subsequent admonitions from D.C. agencies, including four administrative law judges."
Brookens used the titles “esquire” and “counsel,” according to the release, and represented tenants in landlord-tenant disputes in court.
He was charged with contempt of court in April 2011 and went before Lopez for a non-jury trial last fall. Lopez issued his verdict today, which was announced this afternoon by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright, the chair of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law, prosecuted the case, along with fellow committee member Theodore Metzler, an associate at Covington & Burling.
Brookens’ attorney, Claude Roxborough of Kimmel & Roxborough, said Brookens planned to appeal the verdict and request a new trial. According to Roxborough and a lawsuit Brookens filed in March in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Brookens is accusing prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence.
In that complaint, which was filed March 30, Brookens claims he had a right to advocate for his rights as a tenant before local administrative agencies. Brookens also accused the U.S. attorney’s office of malicious prosecution and pursuing the case against him because he is black.
The suit also names Covington & Burling and the D.C. Bar as defendants. They’ve moved to dismiss the case.
Brookens, who could face up to four years in prison and a $4,000 fine, is scheduled for sentencing on June 22.