Wednesday, April 16, 2008
An attorney who had stipulated to a suspension of two years and a day with a fitness showing as a condition of reinstatement was suspended for three months by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The court states in its recitation of facts:
"[The lawyer} testified that he primarily practiced bankruptcy law and that when the bankruptcy laws changed in October, 2005, he was incredibly busy. He stated he contacted everyone who had been through his office for the last five years about the changes to be sure there were no surprises and that his clients had what they needed. He lost his bankruptcy assistant during that time. He looked for other lawyers to take all of his cases. [He] described himself during that period of time as 'overwhelmed' and 'burned out.' He also described himself at that time as slipping deeper into a' 'emotional fog' or as being in a 'complete frozen ' When asked what was overwhelming, he answered, "everything, every day,' but could not explain it. He stated everything was 'spiraling down,' and he knew he needed to get away from the practice of law. It also affected his personal life and his thirty year marriage. Still, he could not point to any reason for reaching that state."
As to the sanction:
"Of his twenty-one-year practice, [the lawyer's]'s pattern of neglect is confined to the last two years in which he described feeling 'overwhelmed,' 'lost,' and 'in a fog.' He also testified he practiced primarily bankruptcy law. The law changed in October, 2005, at which time he lost his bankruptcy assistant and was incredibly busy. After the laws changed, he was "burned out." To his credit, and with help from the Bar, he entered into a counseling program which has helped him sort through issues with the Bar, his business, and his personal life. They separated problem areas, figured out what his approach has been, and got those things resolved. He stated he is trying to 'get into integrity' and to be responsible. He is attempting to move forward for positive things.
Finally, [He] closed his law office and tried to find substitute counsel for his cases. Although he initially told the Gibsons that he did not engage in litigation, he did agree to help the Gibsons through making inquiries with Snap-On Credit. He worked out an arrangement by which Mr. Gibson could relinquish some of the later purchased tools, and Snap-On could repossess other tools, to avoid a complete loss to either party. However, [He] testified the Gibsons failed to follow through with the details of the agreement, prompting Snap-On to pursue the repossession. [He] has admitted he failed to protect the interests of his clients through his procrastination during the last two years.
We find that [the lawyer's] actions of seeking help through counseling and closing his law office will serve to protect the public from further harm. He has expressed a desire to retain his license to practice law to address possible legal issues which may arise in the future in confirmed bankruptcy cases and in connection with his new business ventures. However, he does not wish to maintain a private law office. He also expressed his pride in being a member of the Bar and his wish to regain his integrity in all areas of his life. He has seen improvement as a result of his ongoing counseling."
A dissent would impose the stipulated sanction. (Mike Frisch)