Supreme Court fines ex-AG aide $1,500 for practicing in territory without license
Published: September 18, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Wilson Campbell, a former Criminal Division chief for the V.I. Attorney General's Office, has been ordered to pay $1,500 for practicing law without a license during the nearly two years he served as the head of the prosecutorial division.
In an opinion published Monday, the V.I. Supreme Court sided with the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee of the V.I. Bar Association in finding that Campbell, a native of New Jersey who has since returned to private practice in that state, supervised criminal cases without the proper authorization from the Supreme Court from Oct. 26, 2009, to Aug. 15, 2011.
The court ordered the fine of $1,500 and prohibited Campbell from practicing law in the Virgin Islands as a remedy to its finding.
Campbell had worked for the V.I. Attorney General's Office in the St. Croix District from October 2004 to September 2006 as a specially admitted attorney because he was not a regular member of the V.I. Bar.
When he returned to the territory assume the position of chief of the Criminal Division in the St. Thomas-St. John District under Attorney General Vincent Frazer, the Justice Department filed a motion again seeking his special admission from the Supreme Court in July 2009.
Campbell formally resigned from his post in 2011 under a cloud of controversy and after failing to report to work for more than six weeks. Top prosecutors leveled criticism of his management of the division and cited Campbell in tendering resignations.
In depositions, some attorneys accused him of tyrannical and overbearing micromanagement that rendered them more akin to "secretaries" than full-fledged attorneys. Primarily, they said Campbell gave them little leeway to negotiate plea deals, pushed them to seek the highest possible penalties at sentencings and to seek the maximum bail at detention hearings, according to the opinion.
Another Assistant Attorney General, Ernest Bason, who was found dead in his home Sept. 3 after not making an expected appearance in court, filed a formal complaint into Campbell's unauthorized practice of law in June 2010 because the Supreme Court had not by that time granted him special admission to the V.I. Bar to practice law in the territory.
Frazer fired Bason a month after he filed the complaint against Campbell. Arbitration led to Bason's reinstatement, but the casting of his termination as retaliation for his whistleblower role against Campbell opened up a separate legal battle that had, by the time of his death at the age of 52, escalated through the attorneys' union to the Superior Court and to the Supreme Court.
When Bason filed the complaint, the V.I. Bar Association's ethics committee was in the middle of an investigation into Campbell based on a consensual dating relationship he had with a bailiff in New Jersey while Campbell was a municipal judge. That relationship resulted in public censure of Campbell by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a judge but never affected his standing as an attorney.
However, the V.I. Supreme Court eventually denied Campbell's special admissions request. Campbell's high-profile involvement in the prosecution of cases became the subject of a petition by the V.I. Bar Association's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee against Campbell.
Special admission can be given temporarily to anyone hired by a government agency in the Virgin Islands as long as they are "professionally, morally and ethically qualified" for admission to the V.I. Bar and as long as they have been licensed to practice law in any state's highest court.
The V.I. Supreme Court opinion clarifies that Virgin Islands statutes governing special admissions preempt rules about jurisdictional reciprocity promulgated by the American Bar Association.
The opinion cites specific court appearances by Campbell during his time as Criminal Division chief in which he states to the court his status as an unadmitted attorney in the Virgin Islands and then proceeds to influence legal outcomes. The opinion also states that it was improper for Campbell even to use honorifics associated with his job title because of his unauthorized status.
In their opinion, the justices describe the sanctions against Campbell as lenient. In a footnote, they note that the court has the discretion to fine up to $500 for each of the 35 instances of unauthorized practice documented specific to the complaint.
"We emphasize, in the strongest terms possible, that the $1,500 fine represents a substantial downward departure from the maximum penalty this court have imposed," the opinion states.
Speaking again to the leniency of the judgment, the justices note that Campbell earned a salary of $105,000 yearly as Criminal Division chief.
"This court could also order him to disgorge and reimburse this wrongfully earned compensation to the government," the opinion states.
Campbell is also ordered to reimburse the V.I. Bar Association for its legal costs relative to its investigation.
It is unclear what impact, if any, this may have on Campbell's ability to practice in New Jersey. It also is unclear what consequences the Attorney General's Office, as the hiring entity who funded Campbell's unauthorized practice, may face.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer declined to comment on the opinion Tuesday, saying he had not read it yet.
In Aug. 2011, when it became clear that Campbell was relocating to New Jersey, Frazer said he would rehire Campbell if given the chance.
"All things being equal, yes, I would," he said. "It is my intention to recruit more lawyers like him. I consider it a loss for the people of the Virgin Islands."
A phone call to Campbell's New Jersey office seeking comment for this story was not returned Tuesday.
Glenda Cameron, the attorney who wrote the petition against Campbell for the bar association's unauthorized practice committee, said she was not authorized to give comment by the association.
Ernest Morris, a spokesman for the V.I. Bar Association, said it was not the policy of the association to comment on Supreme Court opinions.
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