Thursday, February 20, 2014
A Casper, Wyoming attorney named Casper has been suspended from practice for 30 days.
CBS 5 reports on the case:
The Wyoming Supreme Court has suspended Casper attorney Stacy E. Casper from the practice of law for a period of 30 days commencing August 1, 2014.
The suspension arose from a complaint that was filed against Casper by the ex-spouse of one of Casper’s divorce clients, and was submitted to the Wyoming State Bar after Casper filed a lien against property the court had ordered sold in the decree of divorce. Casper had represented the wife in the divorce but had withdrawn from the case based upon her client’s failure to pay more than $18,000 in fees and costs incurred in the case. Casper’s client was left to finish the case without representation. After the divorce decree was issued, Casper filed a lien against the property in an attempt to collect her unpaid fees.
Upon investigation, it appeared that Casper had committed improper billing practices in the case, which resulted in formal disciplinary proceedings being brought against her for charging an unreasonable fee and for filing an improper lien. Casper was also charged with filing confidential documents – her fee agreement and detailed billing statement without the consent of her client – with the lien statement in violation of her obligation of confidentiality to her client.
Before the disciplinary case went to hearing before the Board of Professional Responsibility, Casper expressed genuine remorse and entered into a stipulation in which she conceded that her billing practices violated Rule 1.5 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits a lawyer from charging an unreasonable fee. Specifically, Casper admitted that she abused a provision of her written fee agreement which provided that all time would be billed in minimum increments of one-quarter hour, that in some instances she billed twice for the same activity, that she improperly billed her client for time spent in seeking a continuance that was the result of Casper’s personal scheduling conflicts, and that she did not keep accurate records of her time.
Casper also admitted that her conduct in filing the inaccurate lien statement violated Rule 8.4(c), which provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving misrepresentation. She further admitted that in recording with the county clerk her fee agreement along with her detailed billing statement without specific consent of her client, she violated Rule 1.9(c), which prohibits a lawyer from revealing confidential information relating to the representation of a former client except in certain situations not present in this case.
Casper agreed to a 30-day suspension of her right to practice law. A stipulated motion to that effect was approved by the Board of Professional Responsibility, after which a report and recommendation for such discipline was submitted by the Board to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Court approved the report and recommendation and ordered Casper’s suspension for a period of 30 days commencing August 1, 2014. Casper was also ordered to pay an administrative fee of $500 and costs of the disciplinary proceeding to the Wyoming State Bar.
The court noted that the attorney seeded into her fee agreement a provision that allowed her to bill in not less than quarter hour increments. The court did not condemn this practice but found double-billing and unnecessary charges
In this case, Respondent had specifically contracted with her client to bill in minimum increments of fifteen minutes. This Court does not hold that such an agreement is unreasonable...Respondent in this case billed in fifteen-minute increments, in accordance with the contractual terms, times a reasonable rate. Howver, her practice of billing fifteen minutes for such tasks as signing subpoenas, stipulated orders, and one-page letters demonstrated a complete failure to exercise business judgment, which would have required her to write off unproductive, excessive, or redundant hours.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)