Former councilmember Harold Brazil, right, lost his law license in 2018.

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Harold Brazil was about as good at being a lawyer as he was at being a lawmaker, which is to say: not very. But it takes a special type of talent to screw up a client’s case even after losing your law license.

Yet that is exactly what the former councilmember turned personal injury attorney managed to do, according to a ruling from the D.C. Court of Appeals released Thursday. A three-judge panel ruled that one of Brazil’s former clients, Lamont Crosby, deserves another chance at winning up to $250,000 from a woman who rear-ended him in Logan Circle back in 2014, after Brazil’s missteps got his first lawsuit tossed out of court.

In a bit of comically bad timing, Brazil was disbarred just a few days after the D.C. Superior Court sent him a notice about a key hearing in Crosby’s case in 2018, yet he never informed his client about the hearing. He tried to connect Crosby to one of his old colleagues, Daniel Kozma, but managed to bungle that process as well. As a result, a judge tossed out Crosby’s suit for missing important deadlines. Kozma then spent years pursuing the appeal—so long, in fact, that he says he struck a $32,500 settlement for Crosby last November. He tells Loose Lips he’s “gratified” to have won the case, but the appeals court’s decision is ultimately “moot.”

“This case presents unusual circumstances,” the appeals court justices write in their ruling, in perhaps the understatement of the month. Brazil, who spent 14 years on the Council before he was bested by Kwame Fully Loaded Brown in 2005, did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s been a tough run of luck for Brazil since he left the Wilson Building. He suffered a good bit of public embarrassment in 2009 for what can only be described as the tattoo parlor incident, where he was convicted on assault charges after getting into a scuffle with staff at a Georgetown establishment and urinated on the floor in the process. He then sued said tattoo parlor over the dispute, and the tattoo parlor turned around and sued him right back (the parties settled out of court for undisclosed terms). Brazil generally backed away from politics after that incident, despite some whispers of a 2012 comeback, in favor of his law practice.

But even his turn to private life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. The appeals court’s Board on Professional Responsibility, the city’s ethics watchdog for lawyers, issued him an informal admonishment in 2014 for improperly withholding settlement money won by one of his clients. He agreed to a full disbarment four years later, but the board didn’t disclose what prompted him to lose his law license.

Brazil took up Crosby’s case in 2017, about a year before he was disbarred, and filed suit against Karen Brown of Silver Spring. Crosby claimed that Brown was following him too closely and was responsible for the crash, which allegedly led to “injuries to his head and neck.” Brown’s attorneys, who did not respond to a request for comment, denied she was at fault in court filings in 2017 and 2018.

The case wound its way through the court process, leading to the fateful notice of a mediation session between the two parties issued on Jan. 17, 2018. But Brazil agreed to his disbarment on Jan. 18, and it took effect on Jan. 22, setting off a comedy of errors.

Kozma says Brazil called him “out of the blue” about the case. He agreed to give it a look as a favor to Brazil, citing their years working together at the firm Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, and DePaolis (which at the time also included another former councilmember: Bill Lightfoot).

But the file Brazil sent over was “in complete disarray and impossible to evaluate in its condition,” Kozma wrote in court filings in 2018. Before agreeing to represent Crosby, he “began to organize the file in order to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case, and what discovery had been done and still needed to be done.”

All the while, Brazil “mistakenly assumed” that Kozma had taken on Crosby as a client, when that wasn’t the case, Kozma wrote. The court called for a variety of status hearings, and mailed many of those notices to Brazil, but Crosby “mistakenly believed” Kozma was representing him and handling these matters instead. It took some time for Kozma to get word that the case was dismissed, he wrote in court filings. Kozma formally took on Crosby as a client and filed to resume the proceedings as soon as he learned of the mix-up.

“I felt somewhat partially responsible for all this and I wanted to see it fixed,” Kozma says.

Brown’s attorneys disputed this narrative in their own 2018 filings, claiming that they contacted Crosby directly to let him know Brazil was disbarred but they “received no contact whatsoever.” Bizarrely, they added that Brazil wrote to them in March 2018 “stating that he no longer represented Mr. Crosby and for defense counsel to cease contacting Mr. Crosby as he considered the contact harassment.” Kozma says he never saw this letter and was puzzled by those claims. Ultimately, the superior court opted to let the case die in a November 2018 ruling.

Kozma took the case to the Court of Appeals shortly afterward and finally got the case in front of judges in February 2020. In a sign of just how slowly the wheels of justice turn following the disruptions of the pandemic, the judges just decided the case last week, finding that Brazil, not Crosby, was responsible for missing key deadlines and that Crosby shouldn’t be held responsible for his lawyer’s mistakes.

“Things move much slower than they used to over there, and they were never very fast to begin with,” Kozma says. “But Mr. Crosby is 78 years old and not in very good health, so we made a modified [settlement] demand rather than wait on the court. I’m glad I was at least able to get him some satisfaction.”

The court’s ruling won’t have much effect on the people actually involved in the case. But it amounts to yet another public embarrassment for Brazil, a man once described by a superior court judge in previous City Paper coverage as a “a very impressive guy” and “a very good lawyer.” In that same article, penned in 2000 by Loose Lips turned Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Brazil’s colleagues also described him as “very used to shooting from the hip” and “not focused on his public business,” so maybe it isn’t all that much of a surprise where he’s ended up since then.

At least Brazil can take comfort in the fact that his ideas about how to combat crime seem to have come back into vogue among much of D.C.’s political establishment in the roughly 20 years since he left public office. D.C.’s police “have gotta kick some butt,” Silverman quoted him telling a Ward 5 community meeting back then. “Let’s get some folks out there and rumble.”