The office that polices lawyers in the District of Columbia is investigating whether prominent lawyer Joseph E. diGenova violated ethics rules by falsely claiming he supervised the federal prosecution of John W. Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Reagan, sources said.
The D.C. Office of Bar Counsel has begun a probe into whether Mr. diGenova stepped over the line by taking credit on his law firm biography for the headline-grabbing prosecution and trial, even though he was not involved, according to sources in the legal community.
The office began looking at Mr. diGenova after The Washington Times reported in April that the lawyers who actually prosecuted Hinckley and their supervisor said Mr. diGenova did not play a role in their case.
Mr. diGenova, who was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1983 to 1988 and is now in private practice, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Wallace E. “Gene” Shipp, who heads the D.C. Office of Bar Counsel, said rules of the court prohibited him from acknowledging the existence of an investigation until charges are brought or the matter is otherwise resolved. His office acts as chief prosecutor for lawyer disciplinary matters.
For at least 10 years, Mr. diGenova said on his law firm biography that a highlight of his time as U.S. attorney was that he “supervised the prosecution of attempted presidential assassin John W. Hinckley.” But Mr. diGenova was not involved in the prosecution or the trial, according to court records and those who did prosecute the case.
“Mr. diGenova played no role in the trial and did not supervise the case,” Washington lawyer Roger M. Adelman, the lead prosecutor, said in a late-March interview. Mr. Adelman began working on the Hinckley case immediately after Mr. Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Mr. diGenova did not become U.S. attorney until 17 months after the case was tried. At the time of the 1982 trial, he was principal assistant to U.S. Attorney Stanley Harris, who did supervise the case, according to court records and Messrs. Adelman and Harris.
Mr. Adelman declined to comment Sunday concerning any possible bar counsel inquiry.
Mr. Adelman asked Mr. diGenova earlier this year to change his biography, and it now says he was the “principal assistant U.S. attorney” during the Hinckley prosecution.
But the change did not satisfy Marc B. Tucker, another member of the Hinckley prosecution team now in private practice. He said during an interview in March that he was “enraged” by the original biography. He said the revised version “still implies” that Mr. diGenova had a role in the case.
“He never met with us,” Mr. Tucker said. “He tried to sell himself through false advertising.”
Mr. Tucker also declined to comment Saturday on any ethics investigation.
Last March, Mr. diGenova said that those who called his biography misleading “were entitled to their opinion,” but he was a “supervisor in the office” during the Hinckley trial and that, while Mr. Harris oversaw the case, the two “would chat about it.”
“People can quibble, but I was in the supervisory chain,” he said then. “My biography does not say I tried the case.”
Mr. Shipp said his office can initiate an investigation from any source, including complaints from lawyers and judges and facts contained in newspaper articles.
“We are voracious readers,” he said.
The bar counsel can dismiss charges, admonish lawyers or bring charges before a professional board that can lead to suspension of their legal licenses.
The rules of professional conduct for D.C. lawyers say, “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. … A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”