Thursday, October 4, 2007
An atttorney who had been retained in an immigration matter was discharged shortly after receiving an advance fee of $500. He returned the retainer but stopped payment on the check "[b]ased on threats and a perceived lack of appreciation for his agreement to refund the money..." He ultimately agreed to provide a cashier's check as a refund, went to the bank with the clients, and got into an altercation where he pushed or hit one of the clients. He was charged with misdemeanor assault, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, and the judgment of conviction was vacated. The clients sued for return of unearned fee and won a civil judgment, which remains unpaid. As one might imagine, this all led to a bar complaint.
The Washington Supreme Court held that the criminal matter conclusively established the assault notwithstanding the vacatur of the conviction. The court imposed a 60 day suspension. A dissenting opinion would reject the majority's finding that the attorney made full and free disclosure and displayed a cooperative attitude in the disciplinary process and would impose a six-month suspension. (Mike Frisch)