The Talent

October 10, 2011 7:05 PM

With Bad Behavior, Two Ex-Am Law 200 Associates Put Law Licenses at Risk

Posted by Brian Baxter

Two former associates from Am Law 200 firms received rebukes last week in the manner of orders issued by the highest court in their respective states.

The Indiana Supreme Court yanked the law license of former Kokomo, Indiana, city attorney and onetime Barnes & Thornburg labor and employment associate Olubunmi "Peju" Okanlami on October 6 and ordered that an interim suspension occur within 15 days. (Hat TipABA Journal and Legal Profession Blog.)

Okanlami's arrest in November 2010 on three felony charges of breaking into her ex-boyfriend's home and assaulting him and a corrections officer grabbed legal headlines when news of the incident broke last year. The Indianapolis lawyer was alleged to have kicked in the door of her former boyfriend's home after she suspected him of having an affair, according to a local news report citing statements by Marion County prosecutors.

Authorities said at the time that Okanlami had beaten her boyfriend in a stairway before he fled into his bedroom and locked the door. After being taken into custody, a knife hidden between a pair of two bras Okanlami was wearing set off a metal detector during a routine search at a local jail. Okanlami then allegedly struck a deputy corrections officer in the face, leading to an additional battery charge (she was already facing charges of battery against her boyfriend and unlawful entry into a residence.)

According to a one-page order by the Indiana Supreme Court, Okanlami was subsequently found guilty on felony battery and residential entry charges, which, in turn, necessitated the suspension of her law license.

"Respondent [should] be suspended from the practice of law in this State, pending further order of this Court or final resolution of any resulting disciplinary action, due to Respondent being found guilty of a crime punishable as a felony," the court wrote.

According to her LinkedIn page, Okanlami worked at Barnes & Thornburg from September 2007 to July 2009. She then took a full-time position as city attorney for Kokomo in April 2010 and worked there until July of last year. Okanlami spoke with the Kokomo Perspective last year about her decision to leave law firm life for public service.

"The firm position was a good experience for me. I really enjoyed the time, but it wasn't the kind of day-to-day getting out there and getting things done and helping people out that I wanted to do," Okanlami said. "So I started [looking] for positions with cities and local governments. When I heard about this one, I thought it would be the ideal position because it would be a place where I would get the opportunity to really get my hands dirty in terms of getting things done."

Current contact information for Okanlami, who passed the state bar in 2007 , was not available and she could not immediately be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, which has seen its fair share of naughty lawyers, a former associate at Garden State–based Sills Cummis & Gross and Herrick, Feinstein faced the possibility of his own law license being suspended last week.

Philip Prothro, who specializes in litigation work, was accused of falsely presenting to his employers doctored transcripts that stated he had received an "A" in constitutional law from Rutgers Law School, when in fact he had actually received a "C+." (Hat Tip: Legal Profession Blog.)

On October 5, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a public censure order against Prothro in connection with the act of deception. Prothro was also ordered to reimburse the state's disciplinary oversight committee for administrative costs incurred as a result of its probe into his conduct. (Click here for the full 27-page disciplinary report, which is dated August 4.)

Prothro served as an associate at Sills Cummis from 2004 to 2008—using whiteout to change two grades of "B" on his official law school transcript to "B+"—before joining Herrick, Feinstein. A year after he was hired by that firm, Prothro finally provided an official transcript that Herrick, Feinstein had requested in connection with hiring him.

But, as noted by the Legal Profession Blog, Prothro had written over the portion of the grade for his Con Law class with indelible black marker. When someone at Herrick, Feinstein held up the piece of paper to a light, they noticed that the Con Law grade Prothro received at Rutgets was a "C+" rather than the "A" he had claimed.

Herrick, Feinstein terminated Prothro and gave him the opportunity to report himself to the Bar, but he failed to do so, leading the firm to report him on its own. A disciplinary review board split on whether to suspend Prothro's law license, instead recommending the censure.

Prothro, who is not currently engaged in the private practice of law, could not immediately be reached for comment. He represented himself pro se before the disciplinary board and according to its report, expressed remorse for "an indefensible decision that I have regretted ever since," even apologizing to several former Herrick, Feinstein colleagues.

"I make no excuses for my actions," Prothro said at a hearing a year ago. "I only hope that one extremely bad decision will not ruin my entire legal career."

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