Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Summary of a case just argued before the Missouri Supreme Court
In re: Jonathan D. Valentino
St. Louis County
Listen to the oral argument: SC96700 MP3 file
Chief Disciplinary Counsel Alan Pratzel of Jefferson City represented his office during arguments; Valentino was represented by Alan Mandel of Mandel & Mandel LLP in St. Louis.
Jonathan Valentino is an attorney in Clayton. In December 2009, a man hired a law firm to represent him in connection with a property dispute the man was having with his neighbor. Ultimately the case was assigned to Valentino – an associate at the law firm – who told the man he filed the lawsuit in January 2010 and gave the man subsequent updates over the next several years, although in fact no lawsuit ever had been filed. In January 2016 – after having not responded to numerous inquiries from the man about the case – Valentino told the man he never had filed the lawsuit and had lied when giving the man the updates. Over the course of the case, Valentino caused his law firm to bill the man more than $600, which the firm ultimately refunded to the man. In February 2016, Valentino self-reported his misconduct to the chief disciplinary counsel’s office and subsequently went to work for a different law firm. After an evidentiary hearing, a regional disciplinary hearing panel in August 2017 issued its decision concluding Valentino had violated several rules of professional responsibility. The panel recommended that Valentino be suspended with no leave to apply for reinstatement for at least one year, that the suspension be stayed and that Valentino be placed on probation for one year. The chief disciplinary counsel rejected the proposed discipline and now asks this Court to suspend Valentino indefinitely with no leave to apply for reinstatement for one year.
This case presents two questions for the Court – whether Valentino violated the rules of professional responsibility and, if so, what discipline, if any, is appropriate.
Interesting argument - the court explores the mitigation of self-report and asks the advocates about the public protection aspect of attorney discipline. (Mike Frisch)