The judge reviewing the right to practice law for one of Santa Barbara’s most famously and flamboyantly combative defense attorneys has recommended that Darryl Genis’s law practice be suspended for a 90-day period by the State Bar of California, his professional license be placed on probation for two years, and that he be ordered to attend anger management counseling from a licensed professional twice a month for the duration. Genis has the right to appeal, and until then, can still practice law. Richard Honn, judge of the State Bar Court, ruled that Genis had engaged in “multiple acts of wrongdoing, bad faith, significant harm to the administration of justice, indifference toward rectification or atonement for the consequences of his misconduct and contemptuous attitude” toward a panel of appellate judges. In rendering his punishment, Honn said Genis’s “lack of insight raises concerns as to whether his misconduct may recur and is particularly troubling to this court.”
Genis, a specialist in DUI defenses, has emerged as one of the county’s best-known attorneys, having won several high-stakes, high-profile cases in recent years in which he’s attacked the personal credibility, integrity, and competence of law enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, and at times, the judges themselves. Honn described Genis’s style as “very aggressive,” noting the zealousness with which he pursued his clients’ interests. But in at least two cases, Honn found that Genis went too far, crossing the line of ethical conduct. Honn found Genis guilty of “willful disobedience” for repeatedly ignoring a San Luis Obispo judge’s order to show up in court in 2011 to represent a client charged with driving under the influence. Frustrated by multiple delays in the case, the judge ordered Genis to appear rather than send an associate, as he had at least twice, who was either not prepared or authorized to move the matter forward. Genis knowingly ignored the judge in one instance, Honn said, so he could attend a legal education seminar in New Orleans.
In Santa Barbara, Honn found that Genis ignored Judge Brian Hill’s repeated admonitions during a 2012 case to not ask two Santa Barbara police officers — Aaron Tudor and Kasi Beutel — any questions in front of the jury regarding allegations of perjury. Such questions, Hill had insisted at the time, would serve to improperly prejudice the jurors against the two officers. Genis asked anyway, prompting Hill to impose a $2,000 sanction. “Respondent [Genis] harmed the administration of justice,” Honn wrote. “His failure to obey court orders required the courts to repeatedly admonish him. Honn added that Genis’s insistence that he did not understand the admonitions were “unbelievable and disingenuous.”
But Honn rejected two of the four allegations against Genis filed by State Bar prosecutors. In those instances, Honn found that Genis acted in a good faith — if erroneous — belief that a county prosecutor had committed a misdemeanor. In that case, Genis had threatened to file a misconduct complaint against a prosecutor who’d turned over otherwise confidential legal notes to an attorney taking over a case before the transfer had been authorized by a judge. Prosecutors fumed that Genis acted with malice by filing the complaint, which they saw as an over-the-top intimidation tactic. The judge disagreed.
Genis said he will “almost certainly appeal” the decision, adding, “In the end, I believe I will be fully exonerated.” If not, he said, he would take comfort in having “worked tirelessly as an advocate for my clients.” If he loses his appeal, he said the suspension would allow him to spend time with “my beautiful two children and my beloved wife.” In conclusion, Genis noted that even Judge Hill had described him as “probably the best DUI lawyer on the Central Coast,” and because of his prowess the District Attorney had “gone to extraordinary lengths to try to muzzle me.”
Honn’s verdict must be upheld by a three-judge state bar panel to which Genis can appeal. After that, the California Supreme Court must uphold it as well. Every year, about 250 California attorneys are either suspended or disbarred in disciplinary actions.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed on February 10, 2014, to reflect that the judge’s determinations were recommendations and that they would not go into effect until after the appeals process. Genis continues to practice law.