Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Non-Participation Leads To Disbarment

A lawyer charged with neglect of client matters and had failed to participate in the resulting discipline charges was disbarred by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The lawyer's situation was described by the court as follows:

Respondent was unprepared to respond to the allegations in the grievances. Instead, she offered a number of excuses for her failure to respond. These included her "extreme medical problems" along with the medical issues surrounding her mother and grandmother, her difficulty in receiving her mail, and her divorce. She claimed that the client files that she needed to respond to the grievances were locked in the trunk of her car and the trunk would not open. When the Assistant General Counsel informed her that a Rule 10 proceeding was being considered, based on physical incapacity, Respondent denied that she was incapable of practicing law. Within a week from the time of her deposition, Respondent had a battery of psychological tests performed by a psychologist and an assessment by the physician treating her physical ailments. Both professionals concluded that Respondent was capable of practicing law.

The lawyer agreed to a diversion program but failed to follow through on the agreement. As a result, a case that should have not drawn a suspension leads to the ultimate sanction:

There is no doubt that Respondent has failed repeatedly and knowingly to respond to lawful demands of a disciplinary authority in violation of Rule 8.1(b) ORPC. It is equally clear that she has failed to submit a written response within twenty days after service of the grievances as required by Rule 5.2 RGDP. Throughout these disciplinary proceedings, Respondent was given notice of the allegations of misconduct and was afforded the opportunity to respond. Instead of responding to the grievances or the complaint however, her communications with the Office of General Counsel consisted of requests for more time and excuses for not responding.

Respondent's recalcitrant conduct demonstrates a pattern of neglect that extends far beyond her failure to respond to the grievances or the complaint. She failed to comply with the terms of her Diversion Program Agreement. Respondent failed twice to attend her hearing before the PRT. She offered to resign and an affidavit of resignation was prepared and forwarded to her. Yet, true to her pattern of neglect, she did not follow through. Respondent has entered no appearance before this Court, nor has she filed a brief. When ordered by this Court to show cause concerning the final discipline to be imposed, Respondent did not respond.

The court concluded that the disregard of court orders merited disbarment. (Mike Frisch)

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I fail to see what "rule" the contingent-fee contract violated; the ODC sanctions them simply because it does not meet the traditional definition of a contingent contract. But it is easy to see why a contract like this is to both parties' advantage: the sophisticated businessman gets the services of the law firm, and they get security for their work on a risky business litigation case. The client gets the prospect of satisfying attorney fees out of contingent future assets, a prospect which materialized.

Re-negotiating for the new contract several years on was problematic. However, the client's financial situation was changing for the worse. This deal was probably fine, except for guaranteeing the loan for the client which was improper and probably worthy of a reprimand- but again, it made the client better off. As did all of their representation, and the litigation recovered millions.

I can't believe they tried to actually have them disbarred. And it's remarkable they picked 3 lawyers who were not the main file handlers, pointedly doing NOTHING to the lawyer who had much more involvement in the case but is now an elected judge.

Posted by: AB | Nov 6, 2008 7:13:01 AM

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