Campbell's case still unresolved a year after resignation
Published: August 27, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - What happened to former St. Thomas-St. John chief criminal prosecutor Wilson Campbell?
One year ago, Campbell formally resigned from his $116,000-a-year post as St. Thomas-St. John Criminal Division Chief under V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer. While Campbell's position gave him oversight of all criminal cases on St. Thomas and St. John from Oct. 26, 2009 to Aug. 15, 2011, he was not licensed to practice law in the Virgin Islands.
Campbell ruffled feathers in the Attorney General's Office, garnering criticism - and resignations - from top prosecutors and failing to report to work in the final months of his employment.
Yet, a year after his departure, two questions remain in a case that now sits before the V.I. Supreme Court: Did Campbell engage in unauthorized practice of law while working for the government and, if so, how should he be penalized?
The high court first became aware of Campbell in July 2009, when the Justice Department filed a motion to specially admit Campbell to the V.I. Bar, according to a 2011 Supreme Court opinion. This prompted the Committee of Bar Examiners to launch an investigation into Campbell's moral character.
Special admission can be given temporarily to anyone employed as an attorney by the V.I. government if the attorney meets two conditions, according to Supreme Court rules. First, the attorney must be licensed to practice law in any state's highest court. Second, the attorney must be "otherwise professionally, morally and ethically qualified" for admission to the V.I. Bar.
The committee's investigation into Campbell focused on a February 2009 ethics complaint accusing Campbell of engaging in a consensual dating relationship with a court employee while he was a municipal judge in New Jersey. The New Jersey complaint resulted in public censure of Campbell as a judge, but the Supreme Court in 2011 agreed with the committee that this did not affect Campbell's standing as an attorney.
In the midst of the committee's investigation, one of Campbell's employees, Assistant Attorney General Ernest Bason, filed a formal complaint against Campbell. The June 1, 2010, complaint claims that Campbell practiced law without gaining special admission to the V.I. Bar, and the V.I. Bar Association's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee initiated its own formal investigation into Campbell on June 25, 2010.
The Supreme Court eventually denied Campbell's special admission request. Meanwhile, the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee's investigation ran into roadblocks, including the failure of Frazer, acting St. Thomas-St. John Criminal Division Chief Renee Gumbs-Carty and former prosecutor Claude Walker Jr. to comply with the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee's requests for information, according to an Aug. 29, 2011, Supreme Court order. Frazer, Gumbs-Carty and Walker had dodged the requests by citing attorney-client and work-product privileges, according to the order. The high court ordered them to comply with subpoenas the committee had issued.
In the year since that order, no findings from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee's investigation have been made public.
Glenda Cameron, chairwoman of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, said she could discuss only procedural aspects of Campbell's case, which she said has bounced between the committee, the V.I. Bar's Board of Governors and the Supreme Court.
Most recently, on July 10, the Committee sent a petition to the Supreme Court, she said.
"The whole thing is now before the Supreme Court," she said. "It's gone back in front of the Supreme Court with a complaint or a petition for fining from the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee."
There is no set amount of time the high court has to rule on the case. Case files such as Campbell's are not available for public inspection, according to Supreme Court Clerk Veronica Handy.
If the Supreme Court finds Campbell did engage in unauthorized practice of law, statute allows two kinds of penalties: injunctions and fines.
An injunction could prevent Campbell from practicing law in the territory. The Supreme Court can also, or separately, impose a fine of $500 for each instance of unauthorized practice of law. Statute offers a broad definition of this offense, including but not limited to appearing in court as an attorney and "the preparation and/or filing of pleadings or other legal papers incident to any action or other proceeding of any kind" before a court.
The Supreme Court's 2011 opinion notes that Campbell used "Chief of the Criminal Division" as his title despite not being admitted to the V.I. Bar. It also refers to Bason's complaint alleging that Campbell "made court appearances in at least two Superior Court cases and that he may have prepared or filed pleadings in various cases while employed with the Department of Justice."
And it mentions a 2010 police report accusing Campbell of intimidating another attorney in the office. The Supreme Court said this, if true, could be relevant to the unauthorized practice of law complaint because Campbell "may possess authority to direct how a prosecutor may proceed with a criminal case."
Through July, the attorney general's office had filed 232 felony cases and 291 misdemeanor cases on St. Thomas in fiscal year 2012, according to Senate testimony from Frazer.
Frazer declined to comment about the case, noting that it still is pending. Campbell did not return messages left at his New Jersey office.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.