A Bellingham man has been charged with two felonies for acting as an attorney when he did not have a license to practice law.
Kenneth Bruce Davis, 54, of the Birchwood neighborhood, presented himself as a defense attorney in Whatcom County courts in three cases from fall 2015 to fall 2016, according to charging papers filed last week.
Davis pleaded not guilty Friday to three counts of unlawful practice of law. Two of those counts are felonies, because they would be repeat offenses. The state bar’s directory shows no record of Davis having a license to practice law.
Charging papers say Davis showed up to represent a man accused of repeated no-contact order violations in late September 2015. He waived the client’s constitutional rights, made legal arguments, and was recorded on video “holding himself out as a licensed lawyer” in Whatcom County District Court, according to the charges.
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The attorney of record on the case was David Lowell, a family law and criminal defense lawyer based in Burlington. Lowell had filed a notice of appearance, but Davis showed up.
Later the commissioner, Tony Parise, said in court he thought Davis was a lawyer. Davis continued showing up with the client, and walked the client through a plea and sentencing hearing — for one count of harassment — in October 2016, the charges state. The man was sentenced to a year in jail, with all of that time suspended.
The same scenario played out in another case starting in November 2015, which involved a hit and run, according to the charges. Lowell was the attorney of record, but Davis showed up, and kept showing up to hearings over the next six months until the client admitted guilt to reduced charges, according to the court documents. The client was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with 85 days suspended.
The charges against Davis describe another instance in which he called a man in September 2016 about a divorce that was completed 13 years earlier. Davis said he was from “Davis and Rollins,” and that an important paper hadn’t been filled during the divorce.
Davis prepared the paperwork, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, that “requires specialized skill to prepare,” according to the charges. The man provided 401(k) and pension details to Davis.
Internet archives show Davis and Rollins’ website advertised itself as “A Non Attorney Legal Services Company.”
The first defendant’s guilty plea was withdrawn at the prosecutor’s insistence July 13 even though the defendant was content with the deal. The second man was set to withdraw his plea Friday, but did not attend a hearing in District Court. Lowell said the defendant couldn’t make it because of work, and he showed a letter in which the man wrote he was satisfied with his case’s outcome.
Lowell told Parise he didn’t want to make excuses, but he was a very busy lawyer. He had sent Davis to assist the client in handing a plea, but not to act as an attorney.
“My apologies,” Lowell told the court, “I should be at every gosh darn court date, and I make no excuses.”
Parise accepted the explanation — over a counter argument from a prosecutor — and did not nix the guilty plea. Outside the courtroom Lowell declined to talk further about the case. A grievance letter against Lowell was filed with the state bar association in June, according to the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office.
Davis’ attorney, Michael Brodsky, did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.