In a decision released Friday morning, the Kansas Supreme Court agreed to disbar a Lawrence attorney for unauthorized practice of law while he was suspended.
The justices ruled Miller’s conduct was not inadvertent “but rather a carefully planned scheme to circumvent the suspension order in order to continue his law practice.”
A panel for the Kansas Board for Discipline Attorneys accused Chris Miller of not altering his conduct after he was suspended in December 2006. The Supreme Court had suspended Miller for two years for overbilling the Kansas Insurance Department.
Miller and Chris Cowger, a Topeka attorney at the time, had reached an agreement to have Cowger take over Miller’s practice, which included a high volume of workers’ compensation cases. But the disciplinary board said Miller simply changed the signature line on letters and pleadings and had hired Cowger to review and sign documents and make court appearances.
The two sides also dispute whether Cowger or Miller owned the law practice in 2007 during Miller’s suspension.
His attorney in the case, John Ambrosio, contended the legal work Miller “performed during his suspension was solely in the capacity of a law clerk, legal assistant or receptionist.”
But Kansas Supreme Court justices ruled Cowger was only an independent contractor — his compensation was reported to the Internal Revenue Service as such — and that Miller engaged in unauthorized practice of law.
“Ordinarily, an independent contractor of a corporation would have no authority to supervise and direct the actions of the corporation's employees,” according to the decision. “Here, Cowger confirmed that his responsibilities were limited to his contractual obligation and that he had no corporate responsibilities. That left Miller working for the corporation without attorney supervision.”
The justices also ruled Miller, as a suspended attorney, could not function independently doing legal work in the office.
“A suspended attorney cannot function independently as a law clerk or paralegal; he or she must work for and be supervised by a licensed attorney who is ultimately responsible for the paralegal work,” according to the decision.
Ron Keefover, a state Supreme Court spokesman, said there is a process for a disbarred attorney to get reinstated after several years, but he said that was extremely rare.
Miller served as a past chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, and his term ended in 2004.