Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Oklahoma Supreme Court imposed a twelve month suspension of a relatively inexperienced attorney who had falsified billing and travel records, resulting in client payments in excess of the appropriate amounts. The attorney explained:
...[the attorney] stated that she did not dispute any facts in the grievance, that she takes full responsibility for her improper actions, and that she wanted to provide background information for a better understanding of her situation. [She] explained that she is a perfectionist with high expectations of herself and that she encountered various stress-generating circumstances during the time she made false billing and travel claims to the Paul Law Firm. Those stressful circumstances included her job as an associate attorney, her children (a kindergartner and an infant), her family's need to change residences (move to a larger residence), her husband's unexpected loss of employment, and her need for personal time.
The court determined that a significant suspension was required:
There are a myriad of disciplinary cases involving patterns of misrepresentation and deceit, but none directly on point. In many cases we have suspended the lawyer for misrepresentation, often for two years and a day where there is a pattern of deceit. Here, the PRT recommended a twelve-month suspension to begin in November of 2008 and the Bar Association suggested a six-month to twelve-month suspension to begin February 1, 2008. Under the circumstances in this case, we think a twelve-month suspension with no retroactive application is sufficient to deter [her] and other lawyers from similar misconduct in the future and to accomplish the goals of discipline. Accordingly, [the attorney's] license to practice law shall be suspended for a period of twelve months from the date this opinion becomes final.
The court rejected the attorney's asserted voluntary self-suspension as a basis to mitigate the otherwise appropriate sanction. (Mike Frisch)