Friday, August 5, 2022
The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed multiple findings of rule violations and ordered an attorney's one year suspension
The respondent failed to provide J.D. and C.D. with competent representation. The respondent recognized his lack of competence in J.D. and C.D.'s case, to some extent, stating that he felt 'overwhelmed' and believed that the arbitration and litigation with the home builder was 'monster litigation for a solo practitioner' like himself. The respondent testified, 'there's no way a sole practitioner could represent or go through that on his own. No way.' The respondent failed to timely and properly file appeals on behalf of J.D. and C.D. In addition, the respondent accepted assistance from J.D. and C.D. in the case that would ordinarily be expected to be provided by a lawyer or the lawyer's staff. Both the United States District Court for the District of Kansas and the Court of Appeals noted significant deficiencies in the respondent's filings. Six notices of appeal were filed on behalf of J.D. and C.D. between October 26, 2015 and September 1, 2016, in the Court of Appeals. Two of these notices were prematurely filed. Three of the notices were never docketed with the Court of Appeals. The respondent failed to appropriately respond to the Court of Appeals' show cause order regarding consolidation, filed a brief on behalf of J.D. and C.D. that contained 'convoluted arguments' and that was 'nearly impossible to square . . . with the record on appeal,' and ignored the Court of Appeals' order to address jurisdiction in the appellate brief and only briefly addressed jurisdiction in the reply brief.
The court overruled the hearing panel on the refund amount based on a rejected settlement offer
We reject the panel's reasoning and agree with the Disciplinary Administrator's recommendation regarding the amount respondent is required to refund J.D. and C.D. The refusal of a settlement offer, especially early in the litigation when the offer is substantially lower than the plaintiffs and counsel have valued their damages, should not be considered a triggering event that entitles consideration of an attorney fee owed to counsel. This is especially true in this instance when nearly all the litigation expenses were incurred following the failed settlement negotiations. The hearing panel found that J.D. and C.D. paid $46,910 to the respondent and contributed significant hours working on their own case. The case was complex. It involved three mediation sessions, an arbitration session, state court litigation, and federal litigation. The case also involved an appeal to the Court of Appeals and petition for review to the Kansas Supreme Court. Overall, the case lasted more than 10 years. The respondent represented J.D. and C.D. throughout the entire case at every level. Regarding this representation, the hearing panel found—and the respondent did not contest—that multiple serious rule violations occurred at nearly every phase of the litigation and caused most of the expenses incurred by J.D. and C.D. While the hearing panel recognized that the respondent expended a substantial amount of time to handle the case, this does not equate to money that the respondent is entitled to via the initial fee agreement. We conclude the amount owed to J.D. and C.D. is $46,910.
Also worthy of mention is the troubling decision of both the respondent and counsel in this disciplinary action to cast blame on the complainants. Characterizations of the complainants as difficult and impossible permeated the hearings in this matter. Counsel also opined that the respondent should have "kicked them [complainants] to the side" during oral presentation to this court. Both respondent and counsel paradoxically took the position that the complainants should have filed a malpractice action or some sort of fee claim in a separate action to recoup their losses as a result of respondent's inept legal representation.