John. H. Partridge, a Herndon trial lawyer, was suspended from practicing law in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 30 months, effective May 1, after a state disciplinary board ruled that the 35-year-old attorney had mishandled at least 10 cases since 1998.
Partridge, whose law office is on Monroe Street in downtown Herndon, is currently representing 19-year-old Joshua P. Cooke, the Oakton teenager accused of killing his parents in their home in February. Partridge was appointed by the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to represent Cooke.
Complaints with the Virginia State Bar against the Herndon lawyer date back to Feb. 18, 1998, according to the disciplinary board’s 14-page decision. The laundry list of grievances, filed by former clients of Partridge, include charges, verified by the board,
of misuse of funds and failure to complete work for clients.
In its ruling the board found "clear and convincing evidence" that Partridge repeatedly violated numerous disciplinary rules of the revised Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility and the Rules of Professional Conduct, including rules governing misconduct, handling of fees, competence and promptness and diligence.
The board ordered Partridge to pay four of his former clients back a total of nearly $6,000 plus interest.
In one typical case, according to the opinion, a client paid Partridge a $3,500 "retainer fee" that "should have been placed and maintained in an attorney trust account and drawn against by the respondent only after having been earned by him and/or to defray [Partridge’s] legal costs and expenses."
Councilman Michael O’Reilly’s law firm shares a parking lot with Partridge’s law firm. "We see each other on the way to and from our cars, but that is about it," O’Reilly said, adding that he had never gone up against Partridge in court.
In the early 1990s, O’Reilly served on a local discipline committee, and chaired it for two of the four years. He said he did not see many, if any cases, where an attorney had so many complaints filed against him. "The degree we are talking about is relatively rare," O’Reilly said. "It ‘s not particularly common to have that many complaints for one individual lawyer. Anything more than a couple complaints, at the very most, is troubling."
O’Reilly thought that most of Partridge’s problems were due to office mismanagement issues and he wondered how any lawyer could come back after such a stiff and well publicized suspension. "Hopefully the lesson for lawyers out there is to pay better attention to detail."
Pam Bethel, Partridge's lawyer, agreed with O'Reilly's assessment. "John has tackled so many different cases and he has represented his clients zealously," she said. "Because he was so busy, he was inattentive to other things that he may have relied on others in his office to do. He was just consumed with some of his cases, especially the death penalty ones, night and day that maybe other things went awry."
But Bethel disagreed that her client, whom she called a "gladiator," could not come back from a 30-month suspension. "John fully intends on returning," she said. "Right now, he is going to spend some quality time with his family. If he didn't come back, I think, it would be a loss for the legal community."
After two and a half years, if Partridge would like to resume the private practice of law as a Virginia-licensed attorney, he will have to hire the services of an Alexandria-based law office management consultant, Janean S. Johnston. According to court documents, Johnston would be required to review and make written recommendations concerning Partridge’s law practice "policies, methods, systems and procedures." Johnston would monitor Partridge’s law office for two years.