February 2012 - Wants Ad
by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
Hiring a legal secretary can be a difficult process. Fortunately, I have only had to do it a few times. Usually it is a fairly routine process and rarely is entertaining or memorable.
There was, however, one instance that I will never forget. After reviewing a résumé from a lady which boasted a fairly extensive legal experience, I invited her for an interview. The interview was a lot longer than most, not because I was particularly probing, but because she had a vivacious, outgoing and engaging personality and was a great conversationalist. I remember that at one of her prior jobs consisting of approximately eight years in the in-house legal department of a company formerly located in Pasadena which she explained had gone out of the business. Prior to that, she had a stint with a couple of small firms or sole practitioners. Because of the interview, she went to the top of the list. I then did what I always do; I started to call her references. Since I had no way of reaching the defunct Pasadena firm, I called the next lawyer employer on her list even though that job was 8 or 9 years earlier. While I don’t remember her name, nor the name of the lawyer I called, other than he was a male, a piece of the exact conversation will stay with me forever. After I told him who I was and why I was calling, he gave some type of perfunctory response. I then asked, and these were my exact words, “Did she leave on good terms?” His exact response was, “Well, she left in handcuffs.” After that showstopper, it turned out that she had embezzled from him.
At this point, although she was no longer on the “Want to Hire” list, she was definitely on the top of my curiosity list, so I called the next lawyer down the job chain and found that she had embezzled from him also. The gap in her résumé turned out to be an eight year stint in the Chino Women’s Prison, not with a defunct Pasadena firm.
Somehow during all of this, she apparently got wind of my investigation and called the office leaving a message that she was withdrawing her name from consideration. I don’t know what became of her, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if her name showed up on a police blotter from time to time.
In any event, while I have always approached the hiring process with some trepidation, the fear has always been that of a disastrous hire rather than a Bar suspension.
That is, of course, until now.
An Illinois immigration lawyer, Samir Chowhan, placed a secretarial ad in the “Adult Gigs” section of classified advertisements of craigslist. (Upon reading that, I immediately forayed onto craigslist trying desperately, for the sake of research of course, to find Adult Gigs without success, but I digress.)
At the time, Mr. Chowhan was a sole practitioner sharing office space with several other lawyers and had, for the purpose of the craigslist ad, utilized the Internet service of one of the other lawyers in the suite.
The ad he placed was interesting in two aspects: while seeking a legal secretary or assistant, no experience was required and the ad asked for “a few pictures along with the description of your physical features, including measurements.” The ad drew a response from a lady named Debbi who assumed, correctly probably in part, that Mr. Chowhan was looking for an attractive secretary. Mr. Chowhan responded to her email describing the name of the firm, giving its website and telling her that her duties would include general secretarial and legal work, filling out Visa applications and the like. Not content to leave it at that, Mr. Chowhan’s email went on to state:
“As this is posted in the ‘Adult Gigs’ section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together, sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.”
Debbi to her undying credit, responded not to Mr. Chowhan, but instead to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois. When the Disciplinary Commission brought this to Mr. Chowhan’s attention, shall we say, he responded by saying that “it appears that somebody with malice [sic] intentions has used my business information to post the advertisement on craigslist. I did not post the advertisement for a legal secretary . . .”
Needless to say, Mr. Chowhan’s false response did not hold him in good stead. This and some client neglect problems at a prior firm, led to a recommendation of the hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission that Mr. Chowhan be suspended for one year until further order of court. The Illinois Supreme Court approved the report, and Mr. Chowhan was so suspended.
I guess I am going to have to pay more attention to craigslist as the Daily Journal has never been this fun.
Mr. Millar is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.