Wednesday, January 31, 2018

If I Could Turn Back Time

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has imposed a 60-day suspension for date-stamp misconduct

The General Counsel of the Oklahoma Bar Association asks this Court to discipline attorney Meagan Elaine Brooking (Respondent), pursuant to Rule 6, Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings (RGDP), 5 O.S.2011, Ch. 1, App. 1-A. The General Counsel asserts that discipline is warranted after finding merit to the grievance filed by the Associate District Judge in Pontotoc County. This grievance reported that Respondent turned back the date on the Court Clerk's filing stamp to show a pleading was filed on April 15, 2017, when Respondent had, in fact, submitted the pleading for filing on April 19, 2017.ΒΆ2 In response, Respondent admitted that she turned back the filing stamp on this occasion and also assisted the General Counsel in identifying three other instances in which she may have turned back the Court Clerk's filing stamp. Following a hearing, a three member trial panel of the Professional Responsibility Tribunal determined that Respondent's admitted action on April 19,2017, constituted misconduct. The trial panel further concluded, however, that misconduct had not been established by clear and convincing evidence in the other three identified instances.

 The General Counsel and counsel for Respondent proposed that Respondent receive a public reprimand. The trial panel rejected this proposal, observing "the intentional back-dating of official court documents [is] a serious offense deserving more than a public reprimand." The trial panel unanimously recommended that Respondent be suspended for up to six months, "[as] a deterrent to Respondent and to other members of the Bar who might consider such a course of action [to avoid late filing]."

The court's review

 Upon de novo review, we conclude that Respondent engaged in misconduct on April 19, 2017, by turning back the date on the Court Clerk's filing stamp to show a pleading submitted that day, was filed on April, 15, 2017. Respondent concedes that this action violated Rule 1.1 (Competence), Rule 1.3 (Diligence), and 3.3 (Candor toward the Tribunal) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, 5 O.S.2011, Ch. 1, App. 3-A.

Additionally, Respondent acted intentionally and with the purpose to deceive the court and the other party when she turned back the court clerk's filing stamp. Such conduct is the type of dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation while engaged in the practice of law that is forbidden by Rule 8.44 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Though she maintains she had no bad motive or evil intent, her wilful conduct is sufficient to support a violation of Rule 8.4.

We further find, as did the trial panel, that these violations constitute a "serious offense." In our opinion, suspension from the practice of law would provide appropriate discipline to deter such misconduct by Respondent and other members of the bar.

In determining the period of suspension, we have taken into account the following mitigating circumstances: (1) Respondent's cooperation with the General Counsel's investigation, (2) the absence of prior disciplinary action, (3) a good reputation in Pontotoc County as a skillful and honest attorney, (4) organizational changes in her law office to prevent missing future filing deadlines, (5) the absence of advantage to Respondent's clients by the turning back of the Court Clerk's filing stamp, and (6) the economic hardship suspension poses to Respondent as a single mother. Based on these mitigating factors, we impose a suspension for sixty days from the date of this opinion. Respondent is also ordered to pay the costs of this proceeding within sixty days of the date of this opinion.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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