Job counselors always seem to be full of advice for people who are fired from their jobs. “Go out gracefully” and “don’t burn bridges” are common suggestions for the newly-unemployed. Recently-fired intellectual property attorney Alecia Schmuhl might have benefitted from such words of wisdom. Instead, she sits in a jail cell charged with malicious wounding and abduction while her victims–the managing partner of her former firm and his wife–remain hospitalized in critical condition.
What went so wrong so fast is impossible to tell right now. Until last week, Schmuhl, a 2009 law graduate, seemed to have a promising legal career. In February 2013, she began working as an associate at Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C., a highly-respected Virginia law firm, where she practiced intellectual property law and government contracts. Then, for reasons that have not yet been made public, Ms. Schmuhl was fired on Friday, November 7.
What appeared to be a run-of-the-mill firing of an attorney–as common as a cup of Starbucks in the culture of Washington, D.C. law firm life–then took a most unusual and unexpected turn.
Two days after losing her job, Schmuhl and her husband, another unemployed attorney, allegedly plotted and then carried out a home invasion of Bean Kinney’s managing partner, Leo S. Fisher, a prominant Virginia attorney. What they were trying, exactly, to accomplish with their attack on Mr. Fisher or his wife has not been made public.
According to news reports, Ms. Schmuhl and her husband, Andrew Schmuhl, allegedly drove to the McLean, Virginia home of Mr. Fisher and his wife on Sunday evening, November 9. Andrew Schmuhl is accused of knocking on the front door of the Fishers’ residence, forcing his way inside, and attacking Mr. and Mrs. Fisher with a knife. The attack took place over several hours, according to media reports. At some point during this ordeal, one of the Fishers managed to trigger a home alarm, which summoned police. Although the Schmuhls fled, based on a description of the vehicle provided by the Fishers, the couple were apprehended by Virginia police a short time later.
Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, both age 61, are in critical condition at INova Fairfax Hospital after receiving multiple knife wounds.
On Wednesday, November 12, Alecia and Andrew Schmuhl were arraigned in Fairfax County General District Court on two counts each of abduction and malicious wounding in connection with the Sunday night attack. They are being held without bond in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.
Presumably time will tell what set the pair off on their path of terror and destruction. Outwardly, no obvious clues are apparant. Both Schmuhls graduated from Indiana’s Valparaiso University Law School in 2009. According to news reports and his LinkedIn page, Andrew Schmuhl worked as a judge advocate for the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Mr. Schmuhl oversaw a staff of five paralegals and worked on medical lien cases there until 2012. Apparantly, he has not been employed for some time; his LinkedIn profile states he is an “Experienced Attorney Looking for Opportunities.”
Although her name and profile have been removed from Bean Kinney’s web site, according to a recent version of the site from the Internet Archives, Alecia Schmuhl “helps her clients benefit from their ideas through corporate formation, business transactions and by protecting their intellectual property. She helps clients grow and protect their corporate brand through trademark and copyright protection, licensing and franchising agreements. Alecia has specific experience representing clients in filing trademark applications and responding to adverse office actions by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. She has conducted art searches for patent and trademark applications, negotiated settlements regarding copyright disputes, and defended and pursued copyright and trademark infringement to protect her clients’ intellectual property rights.”
Mr. Fisher, who is identified on Bean Kinney’s website as its managing partner, graduated with honors from George Washington University School of Law in 1980 and has practiced in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area for nearly 35 years. In addition to his corporate practice, Mr. Fisher is an intellectual property lawyer as well; he maintains an active docket of trademark matters before the USPTO and litigates intellectual property infringement disputes before the state and federal courts.
As for Ms. Schmuhl, it appears her days of prosecuting trademark applications are finished as she prepares to face a very different type of “prosecution.” And while it is probably not a pressing concern for the Schmuhl attorney duo, the commission of a “criminal act that reflects adversely on the practitioner’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a practitioner in other respects” is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. See, e.g., Va. Bar Rule 8.4(b); 37 CFR 11.804(b). According to the comments to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct,
Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offense carry no such implication. Traditionally, the distinction was drawn in terms of offenses involving “moral turpitude.” That concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation.
In the Schmuhls’ case, any argument that the crimes of malicious wounding or abduction do not “reflect advsersly” on the “fitness to practice law” will likely fall on deaf ears. Perhaps Ms. Schmuhl can trade in her copy of the TMEP for the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual.
As Mr. and Mrs. Fisher fight for their lives, our thoughts and prayers go out to them, their family, friends, and colleagues.