January 31, 2012
Fit To Practice
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has reinstated an attorney who had practiced exclusively in the criminal law area. The petitioner had resigned while facing disciplinary charges.
The court described the circumstances that led to suspension:
...In the hearing before the Trial Panel, [petitioner] testified that prior to her resignation she was working as a solo practitioner handling criminal cases. When [she] passed the bar exam, she was working for Paul Brunton and had been employed with his firm about eleven years, first as a secretary, then as a legal intern and upon passage of the bar as an attorney. Within months of her being sworn in, Mr. Brunton was appointed as Federal Defender by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. When this happened, she took over Brunton's practice, assuming not only his client list, but also the firm's monthly lease of $1300.
Though [petitioner] was well versed in criminal law, she had no practical experience related to managing the business aspect of a law firm.[She] testified that she accepted all court-appointment requests and never submitted vouchers to be reimbursed for that time. "...I just kind of felt like that was my contribution or my pro bono." [She] also testified that she often conducted her jail visits at night, after her children were in bed, in an attempt to squeeze more hours into each day.
Before long, [she] had taken on too many clients overextending herself both emotionally and physically. It appears that she set extremely high standards, pushing herself far beyond what any one person could handle. [She] reached an acute level of stress by 2004 when she began receiving notice of bar complaints. Rather than addressing the issues, [she] testified that she put the complaints in a drawer and refused to deal with them.
Yet, [she] continued to push herself. Just a few weeks before tendering her resignation, she drove to Denver to present oral argument in a case reassigned to her by the Tenth Circuit.
In her testimony, [she] discussed the reasons she waited more than five years to file for reinstatement, saying that she wanted to make sure she was ready and that she could handle herself being able to say no to clients. It is apparent [she] realizes that agreeing to take on more than she could manage was a dominant factor in the events precipitating her resignation. [Petitioner] testified that she has taken steps to avoid placing herself in similar circumstances by not engaging in criminal defense work and managing her time.
The court concluded that the criteria for reinstatement were satisfied. (Mike Frisch)
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