Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Oklahoma Supreme Court disbarred an attorney for misconduct in multiple instances in connection with an immigration practice. The court noted:
Based on the allegations admitted due to the respondent's failure to answer, and the testimony of the witnesses before the Professional Responsibility Tribunal, the charges against the respondent have been proven by clear and convincing evidence. The Tribunal observed that the majority of the May 1, 2009, hearing showed the effect of the respondent's actions and inactions on her clients. Eight witnesses testified and fifty-four exhibits were admitted into evidence. The grievances arose out of the respondent's immigration and naturalization practice, which is highly specialized, and requires attention to detail and deadlines. The penalties for late or incomplete filings are severe for the clients.
The Tribunal further observed that the practice is highly important to culturally diverse clientele because they have little or no knowledge of the law in this area and many have limited English language skills. Accordingly, they are completely dependent on their immigration lawyer to guide them through the regulations and laws regarding their immigration status. Many of these clients have limited resources to expend on legal services, and are at the mercy of their lawyer, whom they solely rely on to solve their problems relating to their immigration status.
The Tribunal concluded that the evidence revealed a pattern of abuse by the respondent, who would charge a fee for services before any were rendered, and then would either fail to render any service or would perform the service in a grossly negligent manner. She did not keep her clients apprised of their legal status or she would give them false information regarding that status. After the clients discovered the misconduct, the respondent did not return the file material to the clients or the new attorneys even after she had been terminated in her employment. She would not return any of the sums paid to her as legal fees when such a demand was made. Finally, she ignored all correspondence sent to her by the Bar Association, and appeared only when subpoenaed. Even when she testified under oath that she would respond to the grievances, she did not.