When the Supreme Court of the United States suspended a prominent Massachusetts lawyer and threatened him with disbarment, it started a Boston legal drama that took two weeks to resolve.
It ended on Tuesday, when the court acknowledged it had the wrong guy in an order attributing its earlier action to "mistaken identity."
The wrong guy, it turned out, was Christopher Patrick Sullivan, a partner with the Robins Kaplan firm in Boston and the incoming president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
The mix-up arose from a disciplinary notice the court received from a New York State court concerning a Christopher P. Sullivan, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. This Sullivan is in prison in Vermont, following his conviction for drunken driving that resulted in the death of a 71-year-old woman in 2013.
His middle name is Paul, not Patrick, and he has never a member of the Supreme Court bar. But, like the other Sullivan, he apparently went to law school at Fordham in New York and the record the Supreme Court received contained only a middle initial, Arberg said.
In a surprisingly sloppy piece of work for a court that sometimes debates the placement of a comma, the court clerk's office determined that the New York notice was talking about the same Sullivan who belongs to the high court bar. The order the court issued on May 15 said that Christopher Patrick Sullivan of Boston "is suspended from the practice of law in this Court."
When the order came out, Sullivan's law firm knew a mistake had been made, said Anthony A. Froio, the managing partner in the firm's Boston office. His partner had practiced law for more than 40 years and was involved in a trial in Baltimore.
"We called the court and they couldn't have been more swift in verifying they had the wrong Christopher P. Sullivan," Froio said.
The court receives discipline notices from courts around the country and compares those lists to the roster of lawyers who can practice in front of the justices. When there's a match, the court initiates its own disbarment proceeding, which begins with a suspension and an order to explain why the lawyer should not be kicked out of the Supreme Court bar.
Arberg said Sullivan's was not the first case of mistaken identity, though she could provide no details.