Tuesday, September 10, 2019
The Oklahoma Supreme Court disciplined two attorneys who had engaged in unauthorized practice.
One matter involved an attorney suspended for failing to complete continuing education obligations.
The Respondent was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar on April 25, 2003. Following law school he worked for several different law firms. His responsibilities at those firms did not include collecting client funds or billing, other than keeping an account of his own billable hours. Somewhere between 2014 and 2015 he was employed with the state as in-house counsel to the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO). Shortly thereafter, an attorney friend of his, Isaac Warren, opened a new practice and asked the Respondent to join him. The Respondent left the CLO and joined Mr. Warren's practice in the spring of 2015. However, within a few months of joining, Mr. Warren suddenly disclosed he was moving to Texas and left the practice to the Respondent but the record reflects there were few if any paying clients/cases transferred to the Respondent. The Respondent testified that this is when his problems began. He stated, "I didn't really have a feel for what's involved in running your own practice, the marketing, the funds management, the administrative. . . . I was just really floundering." By 2016 his finances were suffering and other problems arose. His wife developed an ongoing serious illness causing the Respondent to take on more responsibilities with their five children, some of which have special needs that require substantial attention. This caused the Respondent to devote less time to gaining business, servicing clients, and collecting from clients. He testified, it prevented him from keeping up with his Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements; he could not afford it and "keep the lights on or put gas in the car."
A willful disregard of a suspension order is a serious matter that will not be tolerated by this Court. Compliance with Rule 9.1, RGDP, is not optional. The Respondent willfully failed to comply with Rule 9.1, RGDP, including after he was notified of a grievance based upon that very rule. The Respondent's other misconduct is also disturbing, i.e., lack of candor to Judge Ogden and allowing his retainer fees to be paid to a non-lawyer.
After considering all the mitigating circumstances, we find an appropriate discipline is to suspend the Respondent from the practice of law for six months from the date of this opinion. If the Respondent applies for reinstatement in the future, in addition to any other requirements related to his MCLE suspension, he shall prove he has withdrawn from the following cases: Tymofichuk v. Ian's Enterprise, LLC, Oklahoma County Dist. Ct. Case No. CJ-2015-6883; Ian's Enterprise, LLC v. Stuart et al., Oklahoma County Dist. Ct. Case No. CS-2017-1941. Ian's Enterprise, LLC was the client in both cases and the record reflects this client was notified of his suspension, although not by certified mail, however, no motion to withdraw has been filed in either case and the status of these cases appears either pending or inconclusive.
The court accepted the resignation of an attorney who practiced for 12 years in an Oklahoma firm without an Oklahoma license.
The affidavit of resignation states respondent's awareness of an investigation by the Bar Association, regarding the following allegations in the disciplinary Complaint which suffice as a basis for discipline:
(a) The Unauthorized Practice of Law: The allegations are that from October 2006 until approximately November 2018, respondent established a continuous presence in this jurisdiction for the practice of law and that he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law during the applicable time period by representing clients on issues pertaining to Oklahoma law. Furthermore, the Complaint alleged that respondent held himself out to the public, the legal community, his law firm and the firm's clients as an attorney licensed to practice in Oklahoma.
(b) Engaged in Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Deceit, and Misrepresentations: The allegations are that respondent knew that he did not possess a license to practice law in Oklahoma when he accepted employment with the law firm in 2006. It is alleged that he continuously, systematically, and knowingly represented to his law firm and his legal clients from 2006 through 2018 that he was licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and that said representations were dishonest, deceitful, and misrepresented his licensure status.