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Originally published Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 8:02 PM

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State Supreme Court disbars Seattle attorney

Seattle attorney John Scannell has been disbarred by the state Supreme Court for obstructing the Washington State Bar's investigation into his relationship with several clients.

Seattle Times staff reporter

After nearly five years fighting disciplinary proceedings against him, Seattle attorney John Scannell has been disbarred by the state Supreme Court for obstructing the Washington State Bar's investigation into his relationship with several clients.

The high court voted 6-2 to disbar Scannell, who the justices found "engaged in a deliberate attempt to stonewall, prolong and ultimately defeat the disciplinary proceedings against him," wrote Justice Debra Stephens.

"He continues to assert his conduct is upright and characterized the entire disciplinary process as 'fascist,' " Stephens wrote.

While a bar-hearing officer had recommended that Scannell be suspended, the justices concluded his obstruction "undermines the self-governing nature of the practice of law" and voted to strip him of his license.

"If all lawyers accused of misconduct were as intentionally uncooperative as Scannell has been, self-regulation would be impossible," they concluded.

Scannell has been an attorney since 2001, according to the Washington State Bar's lawyer directory.

In a 27-page opinion, the justices pointed out the irony that the initial conflict-of-interest charge that the bar was investigating wasn't serious and would likely have resulted in a reprimand had Scannell gone along with the investigation.

The conflict-of-interest accusation stemmed from Scannell's representation of a husband and wife who both were charged with theft. Scannell did not adequately explain to the couple the potential conflicts of interest that could arise if the interests of one diverged from the other.

Scannell was also accused of letting the man work on Scannell's computer in exchange for legal fees without a contract. Finally, the bar said Scannell let a suspended lawyer improperly perform legal work using Scannell's name and office.

None of those charges would have led to disbarment, the high court said. But Scannell's refusal to cooperate with the investigation, and his efforts to game the disciplinary system, warranted disbarment, the justices said.

Scannell, contacted Thursday, called the high court's action "an absolute travesty" and claimed he was the target of a conspiracy that sprang from his filing of a bar complaint against Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2002 alleging that, as attorney general, she failed to supervise her office closely enough to catch a missed deadline in a lawsuit that cost the state nearly $19 million.

The justices called Scannell's claims a "conspiracy theory."

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Justices Gerry Alexander and Richard Sanders dissented.

"To disbar Scannell for noncooperation in the disciplinary process that has led to imposition of the relatively minor sanction of reprimand strikes me as excessive," Alexander wrote.

Scannell has been a flamboyant figure around Seattle's courthouses, where he appeared in a long beard and his hair in a ponytail. For years, he was known as "Zamboni John," the driver of the ice-smoothing machine at Seattle Center.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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