April 29, 2010
An Arizona hearing Officer has recommended a public censure and probation for two years in a two-count bar disciplinary matter. The first count involved the operation of his escrow account, which the accused attorney conceded was "sloppy bookkeeping in the extreme" but had not caused client harm.
The second count was more complex and contested. The attorney was brought into a workers compensation matter that involved serious injuries. Two lawyers who had the case asked him to take over the representation and reimburse them for advanced expenses and fees of over $340,000. The attorney made the payment and took the case.
Unfortunately, the two referring lawyers (aka "those rats") concealed a potentially fatal flaw in the case. They had failed to obtain a reassignment of rights. When the attorney found out about the problem, he went ballistic. Ethics problems followed in the wake of his anger. He threatened "those rats" in order to get the payment returned and made disclosures to the court that violated his duties of confidentiality and loyalty to the clients.
As to motivation, the Hearing Officer found:
While Respondent's actions were intentional, they were focused on trying to recover money that he felt was obtained from him by deception, rather than trying to hurt his clients. This Hearing Officer believes that [the refering lawyers] did not tell Respondent of the reassignment problem, and took affirmative steps to keep that from Respondent so that he would take over what they considered to be a weak case and get them out of it. On top of that, Respondent paid them a substantial amount of money to reimburse them for their costs and fees, and they still weren't honest with him.
This Hearing Officer also believes that Respondent always intended to tell both the Court as well as his clients about the problem, in spite of his rantings and threats. While this Hearing Officer can understand Respondent's umbrage, what cannot be understood or excused are [his] threats and overt actions in filing the gratuitous [pleadings]...
The attorney has been in practice for almost 30 years. The Hearing Officer found the case "unique" and found that the clients had suffered no harm. (Mike Frisch)
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