December 29, 2009
A case decided last week by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals involved charges against an attorney who practices principally in California. The charges involved his handling of an immigration matter. The court adopted the recommended sanction of the Board on Professional Responsibility of a 60 day suspension with a conditional stay of a portion of the suspension, but rejected the board's interpretation of the duty to return the client file when the representation ends.
The board had found no violation because the file had been returned in five days. The court disagreed. Rather, the attorney had "repeatedly denied requests and actively obstructed the efforts of his former client and successor counsel to obtain the file." The client need only ask for the file once. As to the question of a Rule 1.16 violation:
it cannot be said that respondent took "timely steps" to do anything but further hinder his former client from securing alternative representation in this pressing matter.
The court also held that an expert called by Bar Counsel must identify "specific instances of deficiencies" in the representation to sustain a charge of incompetent representation.
The attorney will serve an actual suspension of 30 days, 30 days stayed with probation that will require CLE courses. The attorney was ordered to pay restitution of $4,500 to the former clients, with interest from the date of the deportation order.
The case is In re Thai, No. 08-BG-868, decided December 24 and can be found through this link. Mike Frisch)
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