5/05 Oxymoron 101: Legal Ethics

Oxymoron 101: Legal Ethics

Larry Pratt

Judges are lawyers. Maybe that explains why the courts are increasingly the arena where the Constitution and morality are trodden under foot.

At least the experience of Keith and Sheila Hughes would suggest that lawyers and ethics, as well as taking an oath seriously, are not likely to be synonymous.

Beginning in 1985, Keith and Sheila Hughes experienced the American dream. They built a successful business with long, long hours of work — all while raising their young family. They even were able to do all this in the bucolic countryside on northwestern New Jersey — many miles from New York City, indeed far enough away to be in another world.

As with many sporting goods stores, Adventure Sport became not only a place to get everything from worms to bullets to fishing rods to guns, but also a place to come in and just talk.

Then the world turned upside down on April 8, 1997. The store was broken into and guns were stolen that were subsequently used in the crimes known as the Pizza Murders. It turns out that the cretins had certain ammunition and they targeted their gun thefts to match the bullets they already had. The crimes were simply committed for the thrill of it.

A pizza delivery was ordered to an abandoned house and the driver was ambushed and killed.

Naturally, in today’s world, plenty of lawyers and judges figured that among those responsible were the owners of the store from which the guns were stolen. Adventure Sport’s insurance company settled for an undisclosed amount with the victim’s family. Even before the settlement, the dominoes started to fall. The landlord jacked the rent for Adventure Sport beyond where the Mom and Pop business could pay — which of course was the idea. The Hughes found it impossible to get another location because the loan that would be needed to move and get reestablished was unavailable to a business being sued.

This led to the tragedy of seeking legal advice from a lawyer, Dean Sutton, who gives thieves a bad name. He advised the Hughes to execute an “Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors” even though there was no threat of bankruptcy. This would protect them from that, the Hughes were told. Indeed. The assignment was given to a vandal posing as an attorney by the name of Gary Norgard. Norgard was named the Trustee of the assignment. Norgard was simply handed over the store and its assets which were sold off for pennies on the dollar.

The sale of the firearms at a fraction of their cost suggests that the motive might have actually been hatred of gun owners and gun stores. In any case, the Hughes were reduced to poverty, almost losing their house on more than one occasion.

The Hughes consulted with a friend, Jeffrey Moeller, who was an attorney who, although not a legal malpractice lawyer, felt that malpractice had indeed been perpetrated by Sutton. The Hughes ended up with another attorney, Arthur Miller, who took a flat fee of $10,000 to represent them.

Turns out that Moeller was not doing the legal work for the Hughes that he said he was doing. During this time he was suspended from the practice of law. The senior partner of Moeller’s law firm fled, and the Hughes file disappeared with him.

During all this time, Gary “Jaws the shark” Norgard got a judgment of nearly $80,000 placed personally against the Hughes whose business he had already sucked dry. Now he was after their house and their car.

The first shyster, attorney Sutton, was exonerated by an ethics committee (of lawyers) of the New Jersey bar association.

The one shining star in all this is that some former customers got their church, the Vernon United Methodist Church, to donate cash to the Hughes. This occurred precisely at moments when the Hughes were on the verge of missing mortgage payments and losing their home. And, get this, the Hughes do not even attend the Vernon United Methodist Church!

The Hughes have yet another law firm representing them to defend them from “Jaws” Norgard. Keith Hughes has found a job as a car salesman and is striving to make ends meet — something which is impossible with continuing legal bills and a crushing judgment in favor of the avaricious Norgard.

Those interested in helping the Hughes can contribute to their legal defenses by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Vernon United Methodist Church (PO Box 345, Vernon, NJ 07452). Every dollar will be handed over to the Hughes. Just make sure you write “Keith Hughes” in the memo line.

(I interviewed Sheila Hughes on my radio show, Live Fire, which can be heard on demand by going to http://www.gunowners.org/radio.htm.)