Posted: March 7, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

John J. Thompson, a Legislative Hall lobbyist for gun rights, was reprimanded by the Delaware Supreme Court for poor bookkeeping in his Wilmington law practice.

The state's highest court, which oversees the legal disciplinary system, handed out the public reprimand on Feb. 28 after concluding that Thompson's financial books and records weren't maintained properly for eight years.

The court noted there wasn't any indication that Thompson had misused clients' funds.

The punishment ranks on the lower end of penalties given to Delaware lawyers who violate their profession's rules of conduct. In ascending order of severity, the available sanctions are private admonition, public reprimand, suspension and disbarment.

Thompson is a well-known figure in Dover, where he advocates for gun owners as the president of the Delaware State Sportmen's Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association. He can be spotted by his handlebar mustache, which looks like something out of the frontier West.

Thompson's bookkeeping lapses were found during a routine audit by an accountant for the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, which periodically reviews attorneys' records, and reported to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates and prosecutes violations of the legal system's code of conduct.

"He knew he wasn't reconciling his books and records," Disciplinary Counsel Mary S. Much said. "He was somebody in a very small practice, thinking, I'll get to it, I'll get to it."

Thompson cooperated with the investigation and was contrite, saying he had no real explanation beyond not being good at numbers and having a busy practice, according to court documents.

"I'll pay the price, take my medicine," Thompson said Friday in a telephone interview.

Thompson is the latest in a growing list of Delaware lawyers, usually in a solo or small practice, involved in a crackdown on bookkeeping deficiencies.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel estimated last year that record-keeping enforcement accounted for as much of a quarter of its caseload, and it retained a forensic auditor as an investigator. A half-dozen or so lawyers were disciplined in 2002 for bookkeeping violations.

"I don't feel singled out," Thompson said.

As a remedial measure, Thompson's practice will be monitored for three years by Bayard Marin, another Wilmington lawyer. Some two decades ago, Marin earned himself a footnote in one of Delaware's most noteworthy congressional races.

In 1982 Marin filed as an unknown Democratic candidate against U.S. Rep. Thomas B. Evans Jr., a Republican who became embroiled in a sex scandal. After some feverish maneuvering, Democratic leaders persuaded the state treasurer, a 35-year-old politician who appeared to have promise, to run for the Congress, and Marin stepped aside for Thomas R. Carper.