Sunday, December 24, 2017

When A Change Of Mind Is Prejudicial To The Administration Of Justice

An attorney who agreed to arbitrate a dispute with a client and thereafter reneged on that agreement had been suspended for one month with the sanction stayed by the Nevada Supreme Court

Sullivan's violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct stem from a prior disciplinary action where, to settle the claims against him, Sullivan agreed to participate in binding fee dispute arbitration with a former client. When the arbitration coordinator contacted Sullivan to schedule the arbitration, Sullivan asked the coordinator if he was required to attend. The coordinator, who was not involved in Sullivan's settlement and therefore unaware that he had already agreed to participate, responded that participation was not mandatory. Sullivan neither attended the arbitration nor paid the $1,711 awarded to the client, leading to the current disciplinary action.

At the hearing on the matter, Sullivan testified that although he had agreed to participate in binding arbitration as part of his settlement, he later changed his mind. He also testified that he believed the arbitration coordinator had the authority to waive his participation and that she would have had knowledge of his settlement agreement, thus he did not need to inform her that his participation was mandatory under the settlement agreement or inform State Bar counsel about his change of mind. The arbitration coordinator testified that she had no knowledge of the prior settlement agreement.

Based on the foregoing, the panel found that Sullivan violated RPC 8.4(d) (conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice) due to his failure to uphold his agreement to participate in binding fee dispute arbitration. Based on this violation and considering the aggravating factors (substantial experience in the practice of law and prior disciplinary offenses) and the lack of mitigating factors, the panel recommended that he be suspended from the practice of law for one month, stayed subject to Sullivan paying $1,711 in restitution to his former client. The panel further recommended that Sullivan be publicly reprimanded and pay the actual costs of the hearing, plus $1,500 for administrative costs.

A footnote

In that grievance, a client alleged that Sullivan failed to perform services the client had paid for and also refused to return the client's funds. Sullivan claimed that he stopped performing legal work for the client because the client stole a gun from Sullivan's home.

The court accepted the proposed sanction in Discipline of Christopher Sullivan except

We decline, however, to adopt the recommendation that Sullivan also be publicly reprimanded.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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