Saturday, March 23, 2019
The California State Bar Court Hearing Department recommended a 30-day suspension of an attorney charged with (and largely absolved of) dishonesty toward his law partners.
In this contested disciplinary proceeding, respondent Jakrun S. Sodhi (Respondent) is charged with twenty counts of professional misconduct, including: (1) engaging in a scheme to defraud; (2) misappropriation; (3) breaching his duty of loyalty; (4) seeking an agreement to withdraw a disciplinary complaint; (5) failing to perform legal services with competence; (6) failing to inform clients of significant developments; (7) sharing legal fees with a non-lawyer; (8) improperly withdrawing from employment; (9) failing to deposit client funds in a trust account; and (10) engaging in a business transaction with a client.
The court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that Respondent is culpable of five out of the twenty counts of misconduct. Based on the nature and extent of culpability, as well as the applicable aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the court recommends, among other things, that Respondent be suspended for 30 days.
The four partner firm had no formal policies
While the Corporation had no actual policy pertaining to pro bono work allotment, Swingle, Arata, and Van Egmond were in agreement that all cases, including pro bono matters, had to be inputted into the Corporation’s Abacus case management system. Inputting cases into the Abacus system served several purposes, including generating Bills, listing opposing parties, running conflict checks, highlighting important deadlines, listing contact information, and calendaring court dates and events. Moreover, using the Abacus system was a requirement of the Corporation’s malpractice insurance.
But respondent subtracted himself
Unlike the other shareholders, Respondent did not typically use the Abacus system for his criminal practice because he considered it to be nothing more than a billing program. Respondent believed that the Abacus system was designed for hourly cases, while most of his criminal cases were flat fee or a retainer based upon a lump sum payment. Respondent also did not use the Abacus system for his pro bono cases because there was nothing to bill. Instead, Respondent put all of his pro bono cases in Microsoft Outlook.
The issue came to light
In early 2016, while researching a witness in a case that he was handling for a municipal client, Swingle discovered that Respondent was representing the witness in a criminal case as an adverse party against the municipal client. The municipal client was the City of Turlock, which had long been a client of Swingle, and hence the Corporation. And the Witness Respondent was representing was not in the Abacus system. Swingle told Van Egmond and Arata that the Corporation had to get a handle on this or risk being sued for malpractice.
Van Egmond subsequently performed a search of how many cases were out there where Respondent was representing clients, but the clients were not listed in the Abacus system. Van Egmond found there were at least forty-three cases over seven years where Respondent was attorney of record and the cases were not in the Abacus system. Also, Van Egmond searched Helen Mays’s desk and found a number of receipts indicating that money had been collected but not reported to the Corporation. Helen Mays (Mays) was Respondent’s secretary/paralegal/administrative assistant.
After discovering the number of cases not in the Abacus system, Arata, Swingle, and Van Egmond sought the advice of attorney David Zeff (Zeff). Zeff advised that the Corporation had exposure for liability in those cases not in the Abacus system and that Respondent should be terminated.
And so he was.
The State Bar failed to establish intent to defraud
OCTC’s allegations in Count One, however, have not been established by clear and convincing evidence. To begin with, the Corporation operated informally and largely based on “trust.” There were no clear cut rules regarding how many cases one could take on a pro bono basis and no written policy regarding inputting all cases into the Abacus system. Van Egmond testified that there were no policies regarding handling cases for family and friends, indicating that the shareholders generally trusted one another. Swingle testified that there was no limit on pro bono cases. Arata, when questioned regarding whether there was any agreement that all fees earned by an attorney were the property of the Corporation, replied that there was not such an agreement because the shareholders trusted each other.
Respondent did not share the belief of his former shareholders that all cases needed to be inputted into the Abacus system. As a result, Respondent asserts that he did not enter pro bono cases and various flat fee criminal cases that did not involve billing. Respondent also asserted that most of the cases listed in Count One of the NDC were pro bono cases. It should also be noted that the list of 39 cases spans a seven-year period. Given that Respondent handled 320- 400 cases a year and 5%-10% were pro bono, this list does not appear to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence of a scheme to defraud.
It was Respondent’s perceived breaking of the trust Van Egmond and Arata described that led to the nasty break-up of the Corporation. While Respondent’s conduct clearly did not meet the expectations of his former shareholders, a violation of ambiguous or “unwritten rules” does not establish, by clear and convincing evidence, a violation of section 6106. Accordingly, Count One is dismissed with prejudice.
He also was absolved of several charges of misappropriating fees due to the firm.
The only remaining fly in the ointment
On October 13, 2016, Respondent, by and through his attorney, sought an agreement from his former shareholders to withdraw their disciplinary complaint to the State Bar as part of an attempt to settle civil litigation between Respondent and the former shareholders, in willful violation of Business and Professions Code, section 6090.5(a)(2).
The Bar Court rejected most charges concerning a personal injury matter except
Respondent willfully violated rule 3-700(A)(2) by constructively terminating his employment of his client, Nazreen, without notice and without taking any other steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to his client.
Another set of charges
Respondent owned rental property in Modesto, California (the Modesto property). The tenants living at Respondent’s Modesto rental property were evicted in late December 2014 or early January 2015.
In late 2014 or early 2015, Noah Yates (Yates) — who was a client of the Corporation —approached Respondent about doing some repair work on Respondent’s Modesto property as partial payment toward legal fees Yates owed to the Corporation. Respondent hired Yates and agreed to pay him $25 per hour, which Yates could use to pay off his legal debt to the Corporation. There is no evidence in the record that Respondent disclosed the terms of this agreement in writing to Yates or otherwise memorialized the agreement.”
Yates inspected the property and reported, in late January 2015, that the tenants had left the place filthy, but the only repair work that needed to be done was some painting, repair to a hole in the wall, and removal of junk. The initial estimate for repairs was about $1,000.
On or about February 9, 2015, the Modesto property was broken into and vandalized. As a result, the estimate to repair the damages increased to $11,000. And by March 2015, the repair costs ballooned to approximately $30,000.
In March 2015, Respondent filed an insurance claim with his insurance company —Foremost Insurance — stating that the damages were discovered on February 9, 2015. Under the terms of Respondent’s insurance policy, there would be no coverage if the tenants caused the damage to the property. The insurance company suspected that Respondent’s tenants may have caused the damages. Accordingly, the insurance company began an investigation.
During the investigation, Respondent gave some statements regarding the timing of the claim that contradicted statements contained in his initial claim. Respondent explained these contradictions by noting that some of his statements were based on information conveyed by Yates.
On August 27, 2015, Respondent withdrew his insurance claim. Respondent’s explanation for the withdrawal was that he was unable to secure insurance coverage for the Modesto property while it still had a pending insurance claim.
The State Bar Court rejected charges of insurance fraud but found he violated the business transaction with a client rule.
having considered the evidence, the standards, and the caselaw, the court concludes that a 30-day period of actual suspension, among other things, is sufficient to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession.
The discipline takes effect on March 29. (Mike Frisch)
The Law Society of British Columbia Hearing Panel declined to suspend an attorney who with his client's assistance accessed the spouse's Equifax credit report.
On or about January 24, 2017, in the course of representing your client JR in a family law matter, you engaged in an activity that you knew or ought to have known assisted in or encouraged dishonesty, crime or fraud, when you obtained from a reporting agency a report respecting credit information of your client’s spouse without her written consent, contrary to one or more of rules 2.2-1, 3.2-7 and 5.1-2 of the Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia.
With the assistance of JR, the Respondent completed a request for a Credit Report on NR by impersonating NR while responding to various questions posed on the interactive Equifax website. JR had the necessary familiarity with the financial affairs of NR to facilitate the impersonation of NR by the Respondent.
The Credit Report was duly provided in this process on that day and almost immediately upon its release to the Respondent, JR received a telephone call from NR advising that she had become aware of the fact of the unauthorized Credit Report request and that she intended to report JR to the RCMP and the Respondent to the Law Society. She did so.
The protection of private credit information is found in the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, SBC 2004, c. 2. Section 108 of that statute requires that credit reporting information must only be provided with the written consent of the party to whom the information relates. The statute provides a penalty punishable by fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twelve (12) months or to both.
The Law Society on sought a two-month suspension
The Law Society argues that the misbehaviour is very serious as it engages elements of deceit and lack of integrity. As indicated in the recitation of the facts above, it is clear that, in order to obtain a Credit Report for another party, it is necessary for the applicant to impersonate the subject of the application and to assume that subject’s identity. The Law Society suggests that that requirement should have alerted the Respondent to the impropriety of his actions in seeking this Report in this manner.
Finally, the Law Society suggests that this misbehaviour by the Respondent also exposed his client to criminal prosecution, although no such criminal prosecution was undertaken by the police despite the complaint from NR.
The Law Society acknowledges that, since these events have occurred, the Respondent has undertaken several webinars on privacy issues and confirms his intention to continue that learning. The Respondent has also confirmed to the Law Society a change in his practice that requires a client’s written consent to any Credit Reports obtained on behalf of those clients. In the oral testimony provided by the Respondent, he confirmed that he has abandoned altogether the practice of obtaining Credit Reports. The Law Society acknowledges that this work by the Respondent and his change of practice are mitigating factors.
We believe that a properly informed member of the public, on reviewing the analysis provided in this decision, will be satisfied that the profession has responded appropriately with this discipline outcome. The troubled financial circumstances of the Respondent suggest that a fine of any magnitude, when added to the costs that we are directing to be paid, will impose a hardship of significance. The consequence of these events will endure in the memory of the Respondent for a very long time.
We have earlier confirmed that the Respondent has committed professional misconduct. We impose as a penalty for that misconduct, a fine in the amount of $8,000. The Respondent will have until December 31, 2019 to pay the fine.
Friday, March 22, 2019
The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board accepted an attorney's license revocation.
News & Advance reported
The license of a Lynchburg-area attorney and former prosecutor, who is accused of financial misconduct involving past clients, has been revoked.
Cherie Anne Washburn signed a document on March 12 acknowledging those misconduct claims are true. As a result, she consented to the Virginia State Bar revoking her license, which happened Tuesday.
According to that Virginia State Bar document, Washburn “misappropriated substantial amounts of money” from an elderly person for whom she held power of attorney. A worker for Adult Protective Services alerted the Virginia State Bar to that activity in a complaint it filed in August.
The complaint also held Washburn didn’t explain some of her expenses, didn’t answer questions about her expenses and didn’t provide documentation supporting her expenses.
Civil cases pending in Lynchburg Circuit Court tie Washburn to two different Lynchburg residents as power of attorney for them — one who is 94 years old and the other who died in late January.
In one case, an attorney said Washburn was removed as power of attorney for the woman and later “compelled” the woman to put Washburn back in that position. Now representing the woman’s estate, the attorney said around $350,000 of her assets “remain unaccounted for.”
Washburn’s bio is still on the website for the firm Wetzel & Washburn, but Rebecca Wetzel said Wednesday Washburn was not a member of the firm when her license was relinquished.
The bio states she graduated from the Liberty University School of Law in 2010 and then practiced civil law in a Roanoke-based firm before becoming a prosecutor in Appomattox County, then Campbell County. She left the Campbell County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in June 2015.
Attorney P. Scott De Bruin, who is representing Washburn in the civil matters, said Wednesday he could not comment on pending cases.
The New Hampshire Professional Conduct Committee recommends a three-year suspension of an attorney with 18 months stayed.
The attorney has been retained to defend a lawsuit and had neglected the matter which resulted in a "chain of broken promises...and lies he told [one of the clients that] only came to life [sic light] at the tail end of the proceedings. in an ill-executed effort to prevent a sheriffs sale of his clients personal assets."
He falsely attributed his failures to properly defend the matter to the "most corrupt backwards shit I've seen in my years as an attorney" and unfairly characterized opposing counsel as "assholes" and "shitheads."
The committee rejected mitigations based on sleep apnea. (Mike Frisch)
Here too, it was difficult to follow respondent’s timelines, logic, and defenses or excuses for the conduct he has committed. The special master did not hesitate to identify respondent’s brazen attitude in this regard, finding that respondent says whatever he thinks is necessary in the moment. Indeed, a review of the hearing transcripts demonstrates that, when respondent is confronted with inconvenient facts, he pivots and moves on to yet a new story.
Moreover, not only does respondent fail to take responsibility for his own actions, but also has the temerity to blame his clients and adversaries. The vitriol with which he spoke of Stobinski in the hearing is inexcusable and certainly inconsistent with behavior expected of an attorney. He then doubled down on that vitriol by repeating it in his summation brief. Only after having the benefit of reading the special master’s report disapproving of his vitriol did respondent submit a second brief, containing an apology. The apology, however, appeared merely for expediency, since, in his next writing (his brief to us), he turned the same vitriol on the special master and the OAE. In short, respondent appears to believe that only others are at fault for his misconduct.
Respondent also appears to have little interest in developing any of the basic, but necessary, skills to practice law. Indeed, he repeats the refrain that he is incapable of typing, using a computer, or sending e-mail. He has repeated this defense through several disciplinary matters. Here, he has added legal research to the list of tasks he cannot perform, and admits that he never has done research. In a notable exchange with the special master, respondent asserted that he does not need to use a computer or even conduct legal research because he wants to practice only in the municipal court system, as if that practice area required no knowledge or research skills.
Respondent has displayed a willingness for deceit, a penchant for obfuscation, an unwillingness to take responsibility for his misconduct or to learn from it, and a complete lack of self-awareness in respect of the basic competencies of practicing law. Four years after the issuance of the Order of temporary suspension, he has yet to attempt to comply with the OAE’s random audit. Respondent requests the privilege of winning his license back. He wants the opportunity to continue to practice law; yet, he has not taken the first and most simple step toward that end. He has done nothing but show disrespect and contempt for the disciplinary system as a whole. Thus, we recommend disbarment.
He is already suspended in a prior matter.
The misconduct here involved his practice while suspended. (Mike Frisch)
The Iowa Supreme Court imposed a suspension rather than a proposed license revocation
In this matter, the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a series of charges against attorney Eric Parrish related to his handling of a payment made by a client that the Board alleged was for the specific purpose of paying the cost of preparing a transcript on appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court Grievance Commission found that Parrish failed to use the funds to pay for the transcript as instructed by his client and, instead, converted the funds for his own use. The commission recommended revocation of Parrish’s license. For the reasons stated below, we agree with the commission that Parrish violated ethical rules and suspend his license.
Eric Parrish is a licensed Iowa attorney. He was admitted to practice in 1999. Parrish received ten private admonitions between 2001 and 2013. On three occasions, the private admonitions related to Parrish’s failure to provide his clients with itemization of services following his receipt of retainers. On three other occasions, he was privately admonished for neglect when his failure to pay filing fees or take other action caused dismissal of proceedings. On two occasions, he received private admonitions for withdrawing retained funds in excess of fees earned from his trust account. On another occasion, he allowed trust funds in a settled case to fall below the amount of a lien on the settlement funds, thereby failing to protect the rights of a third party to funds in his possession. He was also admonished for neglect in failing to notify clients of an adverse court decision and to inquire as to whether they wished to appeal. Although private admonitions are not discipline, they put a lawyer on notice of deficiencies regarding ethical requirements.
On the public side of the ledger are three reprimands and a 60-day suspension.
The fighting issue as to sanction
Before we analyze the individual charges brought by the Board, we present an overview of relevant caselaw. In particular, we note that the caselaw establishes that there is a question whether a colorable future claim in funds provides a potential defense for alleged misappropriation or conversion of client funds entrusted to an attorney for a particular purpose.
At the outset, we note that in cases involving misappropriation of client funds, we generally impose the severe sanction of revocation...
On the other hand, the failure to follow the rules governing retainer fees normally results in a less severe sanction.
The critical difference between whether a lawyer has committed theft, thereby inviting license revocation, or merely violated trust account requirements that may result in a lesser sanction, often depends upon whether the attorney had a colorable future claim to the funds. See Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Carter, 847 N.W.2d 228, 232 (Iowa 2014). While the Board has the burden of showing that a misappropriation of funds occurred, the attorney has the burden of providing evidence of a colorable future claim to the funds. Cepican, 861 N.W.2d at 844
Here, the payment was for a specific purpose
This factual distinction is consequential. If the funds given to him on April 28 were a retainer to pay for attorney fees, Parrish could at least argue that he had a colorable future claim of right in the funds for work to be done on the appeal, thereby lessening the possibility of receiving harsh sanctions. Carter, 847 N.W.2d at 233. On the other hand, if the funds were given to Parrish for a particular purpose, any future claim of right would be undermined. See id. at 233–34. While a lawyer might be able to claim that the premature withdrawal of retainer funds was only a question of timing when there was a future claim of right to the funds, that argument is more difficult to make when the funds given to the lawyer have a restricted use that does not include payment of attorney fees. See id.
We think it abundantly clear that Ware advanced the $2467.50 for the specific purpose of paying for the transcript for her appeal in the custody matter. Ware’s testimony was firm and consistent on this point. Further, it is striking that the check was made out in the exact amount to the penny requested by the court reporter and Ware specifically wrote “Transcript Fees” on the memo line of the check. Moreover, Ware’s understanding of the urgency of obtaining transcript funds is reflected by Ware’s successful effort to convince her grandmother to advance to Ware money from her income tax refund to pay for it.
No general retainer agreement
We conclude, based on our examination of the entire record, that Parrish did not have a general retainer agreement with Ware at any time. In fact, there was no written agreement between Ware and Parrish. In the text messages with Ware, Parrish simply referred to the fee arrangement as a flat fee. The text messages never used the term retainer and made no mention of a limited term for representation. Ware and Parrish simply agreed to a flat fee of $5000 for the custody modification trial and, later, $2500 for the appeal.
Based on our review of the record, it is clear that Parrish knew the funds given to him by Ware on April 28, 2016, were for a limited purpose. Nonetheless, he cashed the check on the day it was received, did not place the funds in trust, and did not pay the court reporter for the preparation of the transcript needed for the appeal. There is no question that by using the transcript funds for other than their intended purpose, Parrish violated ethical rules related to proper handling of client funds. In order to determine whether Parrish violated rule 32:8.4(b) and (c), however, we must consider whether Parrish has validly asserted a colorable future claim of right to the funds...
In this case, Ware did not pay the funds to Parrish as a retainer for future attorney fees. The funds were provided for the specific purpose of paying for the transcript and not paying for future fees. The question of conversion of the funds is not one of mere timing, but of substance. Under the circumstances, we do not think the future claim of right doctrine is applicable. There is no future claim of right to use funds provided for a particular purpose to instead pay for attorney fees a lawyer reasonably believes will be incurred in the future.
While he had no present colorable claim
Yet, we are concerned that our prior cases at least suggested that a future colorable claim of right might prevent a finding of misappropriation or theft.
With a musical flourish "From This Moment On"
In the disciplining process, we believe lawyers are entitled to fair notice of what might lead to serious discipline, particularly when license revocation is a potential sanction. See Cepican, 861 N.W.2d at 844. Because our prior cases suggested but did not clearly and unequivocally hold that a future colorable claim of right was not a defense to a claim of theft of misappropriation when limited use client funds are involved, we decline to find, in this case, that a theft or misappropriation occurred. At the time he cashed the check for transcript fees, Parrish had a future colorable claim of right that exceeded the amount of the check. We therefore consider Parrish’s transgression as involving violations of our trust account regulations involving safekeeping of client funds. Carter, 847 N.W.2d at 232. We want to make it clear, however, that in future cases concerning specific purpose funds, a future colorable claim of right will not be a defense to a charge of theft or misappropriation. In that sense, our holding here is prospective only.
As revocation is off the table
the lengthy nature of Parrish’s disciplinary record; the multiple nature of his violations and the relationship of the violations to past misconduct; his experience as an attorney; his resistance to the processes before the commission; his knowledge of his own wrongdoing, coupled with his refusal to admit wrongdoing or show remorse are important aggravating factors in imposing discipline.
...we suspend Parrish from the practice of law indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for two years from the date of this opinion.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded an attorney for, among other things. practicing while suspended
Attorney Burton was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1997. Her law license is currently subject to administrative and temporary suspensions. On October 31, 2016, Attorney Burton's law license was administratively suspended due to her failure to pay mandatory bar dues and her failure to file a trust account certification. On May 22, 2018, her law license was administratively suspended due to her failure to comply with continuing legal education requirements. On July 10, 2018, her law license was temporarily suspended due to her failure to cooperate in an OLR investigation unrelated to the misconduct at issue in this case.
The case involves several allegations to which the attorney defaulted. She practiced in bankruptcy court while suspended.
while operating as a solo practitioner, Attorney Burton used a law firm name and letterhead that listed several partners, one of whom had a suspended law license.
By using a law firm name that listed several partners despite operating as a solo practitioner, Attorney Burton violated SCR 20:7.5(d)6 (Count 3).
By using the name of a suspended attorney in her firm name and letterhead, Attorney Burton violated SCR 22.27(l),7 enforceable via SCR 20:8.4(f) (Count 4).
Thursday, March 21, 2019
A most unusual District of Columbia Ad Hoc Hearing Committee report recommends dismissal of all charges against an attorney.
Disciplinary Counsel presented its case-in-chief on February 11-12, 2019, and called the following witnesses: Ernie Davis (Respondent’s client and the complainant); Larry Moon (Mr. Davis’ brother, who communicated with Respondent regarding Mr. Davis’ representation); Charles M. Anderson (Disciplinary Counsel’s Manager, Forensic Investigations); and Charlie Bruce (D.C. Department of Corrections employee). Disciplinary Counsel did not call Respondent to testify. When Disciplinary Counsel rested its case on February 12, 2019, Respondent requested, and was granted, a one-week recess to obtain additional evidence from the D.C. Department of Corrections.
When the hearing resumed on February 19, 2019, Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton P. Fox, III, appeared with Ms. Dorsainvil on behalf of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Respondent again appeared pro se. At the beginning of the hearing, Mr. Fox informed the Hearing Committee that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel had discovered evidence that Messrs. Davis and Moon may have committed perjury when testifying before the Hearing Committee, and that “they have attempted to use [the Office of Disciplinary Counsel] as a way of having Mr. Ponds refund the money they paid to him.” Tr. 251-52. Based on this, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel withdrew their testimony.
Mr. Fox represented that Disciplinary Counsel would not present any further evidence, and he argued that that the Hearing Committee should recommend to the Board that the matter should be dismissed. Id. at 252-53. Mr. Fox also apologized to Respondent. Id. at 253. Respondent agreed with Disciplinary Counsel’s recommendation. Id. at 254.
The hearing committee concludes that the withdrawn testimony was essential to any finding of misconduct
We recommend that the Board dismiss all of the charges against Respondent because Disciplinary Counsel has failed to prove any by clear and convincing evidence. We commend the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for its decisive action upon concluding that it could no longer sponsor the testimony of its key witnesses. Disciplinary Counsel’s conduct reinforces the notion of fairness that is essential to the operation of this, and any other, disciplinary system.
The committee consisted of William Corcoran, Esquire, Chair, Rabbi Marc Lee Raphael, Public Member and Patricia B. Millerioux, Esquire.
In re Billy Ponds can be accessed here. (Mike Frisch)
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered a six-month suspension of an attorney
Attorney Templeton was admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 2004 and practiced in Menasha. He has no prior disciplinary history. Effective May 31, 2017, his license to practice law was suspended for failure to comply with continuing legal education reporting requirements. Effective October 31, 2017, his license to practice law was suspended for failure to pay state bar dues and provide the OLR trust account certification. Attorney Templeton's license remains suspended.
While under surveillance for suspected drug activity
On August 2, 2017, Investigator Gustafson, the MEG investigator, and the CI met in advance of a pre-arranged controlled buy of illegal drugs from Attorney Templeton set for later that day. The CI wore a wireless body transmitter while the investigators observed the drug transaction between Attorney Templeton and the CI. Attorney Templeton delivered approximately .2 grams of heroin to the CI with the assurance, "Don't worry, I'll get more." Following the drug transaction, Attorney Templeton was arrested and later released.
He violated conditions of release and
On March 6, 2018, Attorney Templeton pleaded guilty to the felony count of manufacturing/delivery of heroin and one count of felony bail jumping. The other felony bail jumping and the disorderly conduct counts were read in and dismissed.
After careful review of the matter, we accept the stipulation and determine that Attorney Templeton engaged in the three counts of misconduct alleged in the OLR's complaint. We further conclude that a six-month suspension of his license to practice law is an appropriate level of discipline.
He will be subject to a number of conditions on reinstatement. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Vermont Disciplinary Counsel has filed a petition of misconduct in a matter where the attorney has been criminally charged with engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct.
The charges arise from a single encounter with JH, the mother of a former client, in her Peru home.
The petition alleges that, on July 17, 2017, the attorney
grabbed the back of JH's head, forced her face to his face, and inserted his tongue in her mouth and partially down her throat. He also pushed his fingers through the clothing of JH, into her anus.
The petition further alleges that the above conduct was not consented to by JH.
Notably, the criminal charges were filed on February 8, 2019 and the bar charges came 12 days later.
The attorney responded by denying misconduct and requesting a stay. (Mike Frisch )
The Michigan Attorney Discipline Board Tri-County Hearing Panel imposed a 48-month suspension of an attorney convicted of criminal offenses.
62CBS Detroit reported
A Huntington Woods attorney has pleaded guilty to fraud charges in what investigators say was a scheme involving a medical marijuana business.
The U.S. Attorney’s office says 48-year-old Robert Gross told investors that the $2 million they would give him were going to be used for a medical marijuana business and equipment. However, Gross used the money to gamble in Las Vegas. The investors involved in this incident included several clients of his law practice.
Gross also admitted to creating fraudulent documents as part of the scheme — that included falsely-notarized documents and a false net worth statement that he understood would be used in an attempt to secure additional funds from investors.
“As with all financial scams, the victims in this case received promises of hefty profits, but they were the ones who ended up paying the price,” Steve Francis, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Detroit, said in a statement. “As today’s plea agreement clearly demonstrates, HSI special agents and our partners are committed to holding perpetrators of financial crime accountable and making every effort to ensure victims receive justice.”
As part of the plea, Gross will have to pay back more than $3.5 million in restitution to the victims.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
An Illinois attorney had been charged with unauthorized practice after an administrative suspension
At all times alleged in this complaint, Supreme Court Rule 793 requires that, by the last day of the month that occurs one year after the newly-admitted attorney’s admission to practice in Illinois, newly-admitted attorneys must: a) complete a Basic Skills Course of no less than six hours covering topics such as practice techniques and procedures under the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, client communications, use of trust accounts, attorneys’ other obligations under the Court’s Rule, required record keeping, professional responsibility topics (which may include professionalism, diversity and inclusion, mental health and substance abuse, and civility) and may cover other rudimentary elements of practice. The Basic Skills Course must include at least six hours approved for professional responsibility credit. An attorney may satisfy this requirement by participating in a mentoring program approved by the Commission on Professionalism pursuant to Rule 795(d)(11); b) complete at least nine additional hours of MCLE credit, which may include any number of hours approved for professional responsibility credit; and c) report their compliance to the MCLE Board as required by Rule 796.
At all times alleged in this complaint, Supreme Court Rule 796 requires that the MCLE Board send to attorneys a notice of requirement to submit an MCLE certification ("Initial MCLE Notice"). The attorney’s certification shall state whether the attorney complied with these Rules, has not complied with these Rules or is exempt. With respect to newly-admitted attorneys, Rule 796(a)(1)(i) requires that, on or before the first day of the month preceding the end of the attorney’s newly-admitted attorney requirement reporting period, the Director shall mail or email the attorney, at a mailing or email address maintained by the ARDC, an Initial MCLE notice.
After much back and forth with the MCLE officials
On or about April 21, 2017, Respondent received the letter from the ARDC that informed him his name had been removed from the Master Roll of Attorneys and that he was no longer authorized to practice law in Illinois.
Between April 19, 2017 and November 29, 2017, Respondent continued to be employed by the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office, appeared in several matters and engaged in the practice of law as an assistant state’s attorney, despite being removed from the Master Roll of Attorneys.
On November 28, 2017, Respondent completed all of the requirements for newly-admitted attorneys.
On November 29, 2017, Respondent was reinstated to the Master Roll of Attorneys.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has suspended an attorney for billing misconduct in court-appointed cases.
Ronald D. Hassan is a lawyer who admittedly engaged in “value billing” and “block billing” to calculate the amounts owed to him by the Public Defender Services (PDS) for his court-appointed representation of criminal defendants. Mr. Hassan’s billing practices resulted in impractical absurdities such as billing thirty or more hours on multiple days. He was charged with violating two separate provisions of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Following a hearing, the Hearing Panel Subcommittee (HPS) recommended that Mr. Hassan be suspended from the practice of law for one-and-one-half years. Mr. Hassan objected to the recommended sanctions and argued that he should instead be subjected merely to a three-month suspension. We find that the HPS’s recommendation of a one-and-one-half year suspension is overly harsh, but that Mr. Hassan’s proposed sanction of three months is inadequate to fully effectuate the goals of the disciplinary process. Accordingly, we modify the HPS’s recommendation and order that Mr. Hassan be suspended from the practice of law for six months, and we adopt the remainder of the HPS’s recommended sanctions.
The bar case
In June 2015, Mr. Hassan contacted the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) about billing issues he was having with the PDS and requested an opinion as to whether he needed to self-report his value and block billing practices. Although the ODC advised Mr. Hassan to self-report, he informed them that he would seek an outside opinion.
On September 23, 2015, Mr. Hassan entered into a conciliation agreement with the PDS that detailed the extent of Mr. Hassan’s billing discrepancies, including billing (1) thirty or more hours on three dates; (2) twenty-four to thirty hours on four dates; (3) twenty to twenty-four hours on eleven dates; and (4) fifteen to twenty hours on twenty-six dates.
The conciliation agreement further described Mr. Hassan’s billing practices. He disclosed that although he recorded time for each particular matter, he billed in increments of .5 hours—regardless of actual time spent—and did not have a system for accumulating the daily total of time. The agreement notes that Mr. Hassan explained that he had been billing in this manner over a course of years without ever being told it was improper, had always gained the approval of the circuit court without ever being questioned, and was unaware that PDS had published guidelines regarding the method for billing services.
To resolve the matter, the PDS and Mr. Hassan agreed that he would reduce the vouchers held by PDS for payment by one-half of the total amount of each voucher. The total amount of the reduction was $9,880.17.
The court balanced a number of mitigating and aggravating factors in determining an appropriate sanction. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, March 15, 2019
The Delaware Supreme Court has ordered a 15-month suspension of an attorney retroactive to the date of his interim suspension.
The Court has considered the matter carefully. Vavala admitted the ethical violations alleged in the ODC’s petition against him. The Board carefully considered Vavala’s ethical violations, his knowing state of mind, the potential injury and actual injury, the presumptive sanction, and all of the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors. Under the circumstances, we find the Board’s recommendation of a 15-month suspension to be appropriate. We therefore accept the Board’s findings and recommendation for discipline.
The attorney pleaded guilty to criminal charges of carrying a concealed dangerous instrument, driving under the influence and illegal possession of Adderall.
The incident took place on April 24, 2018.
The attorney - admitted in 2015 - went to a party after work and then to two Trolley Square bars and then to Famous Joe's, from where he departed about 2 am.
He was stopped on the way home. On the floor of his car were two loaded weapons for which he did not have a permit.
He testified that he is an "avid target shooter" and had failed to follow his usual procedure of removing the ammunition because he was in a hurry to get to work.
There was a significant amount of favorable testimony as to his abilities as a lawyer and general good character.
He was a part of a team defending a Wilmington Trust criminal defendant that was working long hours when the crimes occurred.
He also is participating in addiction recovery treatment.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
An attorney who was permanently disbarred by the Eastern District of Kentucky Bankruptcy Court has received identical reciprocal discipline from the Kentucky Supreme Court.
While suspended by the bankruptcy court. he continued to represent a couple
In October 2017, the Blackwelders were contacted by a real estate agent letting them know that their house was in foreclosure. O’Malley had not been negotiating their loan modification as promised, and the Blackwelders had to accept a “cash for keys” agreement to move to a rental home. In December 2017, the Blackwelders requested their funds from O’Malley. O’Malley made several promises to pay them their funds, but never returned their money. The Blackwelders’ bankruptcy case was closed without discharge in late 2017 and, although O’Malley was suspended, he continued to give assurances that he would reopen their bankruptcy case until March 2018 when the Blackwelders contacted Beverly Burden, a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee to resolve the issues.
Burden discovered that a “Michael Taylor” had entered an appearance for the Blackwelders in their case. Burden contacted Michael Taylor and both he and the Blackwelders assured Burden that Taylor was not the Blackwelders’ attorney. O’Malley, who knew Taylor, had forged his name on legal documents pertaining to the Blackwelder case, as O’Malley was suspended from the practice of law. On July 9, 2018, Burden filed a Motion of the U.S. Trustee to Disbar Attorney Justin O’Malley, and for Sanctions, Fees Disgorgement, and Other Relief. Douglas Howard entered an appearance on behalf of O’Malley and a hearing was eventually set for September 20, 2018. Joint Stipulations were entered on September 19 with O’Malley admitting to (1) depositing the Blackwelders’ funds into his personal bank account which he used for such expenses as “eating out, daily coffee, salon visits, bookstore purchases, movie rentals, and trips to Best Buy;” (2) failing to return escrow funds; (3) forging the Blackwelders’ signatures in court filings; and (4) forging Michael Taylor’s name and signature in multiple court filings without his knowledge. To add insult to injury, on the same day, Douglas Howard filed a Motion to Withdraw because “the undersigned received a tendered retainer amount that was returned today [not sufficient funds], due to the account being closed.” Judge Gregory R. Schaaf granted Howard’s Motion to Withdraw and rescheduled the hearing for October 3, 2018.
O’Malley failed to appear for the October 3 hearing and eventually the parties signed an Agreed Order wherein O’Malley agreed to be permanently prohibited from practice in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and to pay the Blackwelders $10,500 within 30 days.
The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected a proposed sanction that would have allowed the attorney's automatic reinstatement
Bar Counsel contends that the Trial Commissioner and Board erred in determining that Howell should be suspended for a period of one-hundred-and eighty-one days, with ninety days to serve and the remaining ninety-one days probated for a period of two years upon conditions. We note that findings of fact by trial commissioners and the Board are merely advisory to this Court. SCR 3.360; Kentucky Bar Association v. Jones, 759 S.W.2d 61, 63 (Ky. 1988). “Final decisions of guilt and punishment can only be made by the Supreme Court, and it is done on the basis of a de novo consideration of pleadings and trial review.” Kentucky Bar Association v. Jacobs, 387 S.W.3d 332, 337 (Ky. 2012) (quoting Jones, 759 S.W.2d at 63-64)). We now exercise this authority and disagree with the Board that its recommended sanction is adequate.
Bar Counsel argues that this recommended sanction adopted by the Board is not supported by substantial evidence and is clearly erroneous as a matter of law as required by SCR 3.370(5)(a)(l). It further contends that the suspension, which permits automatic reinstatement, unduly depreciates the seriousness of Howell’s misconduct. We agree.
In mitigation, the Board considered testimony Howell offered as to her good character. Howell also offered testimony as to her struggles with anxiety, depression and alcohol addiction. Furthermore, she contended her gastric surgery and relationship issues played a role in her misconduct. We are not persuaded that these factors merit a lesser sanction for Howell’s numerous acts of misconduct.
There were numerous violations and prior discipline
In light of this Court’s precedent, Howell’s previous admonitions, and the current charges, we believe her reinstatement to practice law in the Commonwealth must be contingent upon the approval of the Character and Fitness Committee. Therefore, it is ordered that Howell shall be suspended for a period of one hundred and eighty-one days and said suspension shall continue until such time as she is reinstated to the practice of law by order of this Court pursuant to SCR 3.510
The North Carolina State Bar has charged an attorney with ethics violations arising from his guilty plea to possession of methamphetamine.
The Daily Caller reported
Authorities discovered a supply of syringes, methamphetamine and heroin in the car of top local prosecutor in North Carolina during a recent traffic stop.
Waxhaw Police Department officers stopped James Brandon Graham early Sunday morning on North Broome Street for speeding and having expired tags. When they approached the vehicle, police noticed a syringe full of brownish liquid and subsequently asked Graham to exit his car, the Gaston Gazette reported.
After giving police permission to search his car, officers found six syringes containing heroin, three containing methamphetamine and two that were empty. Graham faces multiple charges including felony counts of heroin possession, methamphetamine possession, and possession and drug paraphernalia.
Graham served as an assistant prosecutor in the Gaston County District Attorney’s Office for at least five years and previously handled drug cases. District Attorney Locke Belle does not expect Graham’s arrest to affect any current cases, the DA said and added the cases have been turned over to other employees.
“I am not going to say anything about the case because it is a pending case in another county, but he is no longer handling cases in this office,” Bell said, according to the Gaston Gazette.
Gaston Gazette also reported on the arrest. (Mike Frisch)
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has imposed reciprocal discipline for an attorney's misconduct in Virginia, where she was not admitted to practice.
Ms. Styles-Anderson is a member of the District of Columbia Bar, but is not admitted to practice in Virginia. In 2015, Ms. StylesAnderson represented a juvenile in state-court proceedings in Virginia. Ms. StylesAnderson initially was not affiliated with local counsel, and she admits that she affirmatively misrepresented her status as a non-Virginia attorney when she entered her appearance. As part of this representation, Ms. Styles-Anderson collected legal fees, including advance legal fees that Ms. Styles-Anderson did not deposit into a trust account. The parents of the juvenile represented by Ms. Styles-Anderson retained counsel to recover the fees from Ms. Styles-Anderson. Ms. StylesAnderson agreed that her conduct violated numerous of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. Pursuant to an agreed disposition, Ms. Style-Anderson was suspended from the practice of law in Virginia for fifteen months. Subsequently, this court temporarily suspended Ms. Styles-Anderson from the practice of law in the District of Columbia, pending resolution of a reciprocal-discipline proceeding. On September 15, 2017, Ms. Styles-Anderson filed the affidavit required by D.C. Bar R. XI, § 14(g), attesting that Ms. Styles-Anderson had informed her clients that she could no longer represent them.
She is required to petition for reinstatement and demonstrate fitness to practice law. (Mike frisch)
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
An Illinois Hearing Board has concluded that charges of dishonest conduct had not been proven and should be dismissed.
The Administrator filed a one-count Complaint against Respondent Tracy H. Wolfe ("Respondent") alleging she falsely claimed she was an employee of a company in order to receive insurance benefits, and submitted claims for insurance benefits to which she was not entitled. Respondent was charged with engaging in dishonest conduct as well as criminal conduct that reflected adversely on her honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer.
The Hearing Board found the charges of the Complaint were not proved by clear and convincing evidence and therefore recommended the Complaint be dismissed.
Respondent was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 2002. After working for law firms where she handled large-scale commercial real estate transactions, she became assistant general counsel at General Growth Properties. In the fall of 2009, she was laid off from General Growth Properties and started her own firm. She stopped working in September 2014 and has not done any legal work since that time. Respondent testified she has never practiced employment law, owned or managed a business, participated in choosing a group insurance plan, or had responsibility for administering employee benefits. (Tr. 17-27, 41, 71, 229-30).
Daniel Michael, Respondent's father, founded Horizon Realty group ("Horizon"), a family-owned commercial real estate company, in the early 1980s. Horizon Group Holdings is the umbrella company for various Horizon entities. Respondent's tax records reflect that from 2011 through 2015 she had a 24% ownership interest in Horizon Group Holdings through a trust, and as an individual. As a part owner, she was provided with K-1 tax schedules. She did not receive W-2 forms. (Tr. 62, 70, 130-34, 142, 217; Adm. Ex. 15).
Jeffrey Michael, an attorney and Respondent's brother, has worked at Horizon since 2001 and is currently the Chief Operating Officer in charge of day-to-day operations. In 2010 his role with respect to health insurance was to shop for coverage, communicate with the insurance broker, and determine the employer contribution amount. He deferred to his staff with respect to enrolling employees and calculating their payments. (Tr. 217-22).
The allegations of dishonesty related to maternity coverage
During the time Respondent worked at law firms and General Growth Properties, she received health insurance as an employee through her employers' policies. When she started her own firm in 2009, she obtained health insurance pursuant to the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (Cobra). At that time Respondent and her husband, who was a partner with a large company, were living with Respondent's parents in Highland Park. (Tr. 19-20, 27-28).
Between 2009 and October 2010, Respondent decided she wanted to have a second child. Her Cobra coverage had a waiting period of twelve months for maternity benefits, and other private insurance options had a similar requirement. Her husband did not have insurance coverage through his business. Respondent testified when she mentioned the situation to her father, he told her she could be added to Horizon's policy. She understood from his statement that she was allowed to be on the policy. (Ans. at pars. 4, 6; Tr. 29-31, 76).
The conduct came to light when Horizon declared bankruptcy
In 2014 Horizon Group Management filed for bankruptcy. Paul Bauch, attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, testified that one of the duties of the trustee was to recover any money fraudulently transferred from the bankrupt estate. Bauch received Horizon's financial records in November 2015 and discovered that assets had been transferred to family members to pay credit card and other expenses, including health insurance premiums for Respondent. A compilation of the premiums, prepared by the trustee's accountant, indicates $70,170.16 was paid to Blue Cross between February 2011 and April 2015 on behalf of Respondent. After confirming Respondent was not an employee of Horizon, Bauch made a demand for the return of those funds. He testified Horizon should not have been paying the premiums that were Respondent's personal expense. (Tr. 79-89, 95, 115; Adm. Ex. 3, 7, 12).
Respondent testified she was contacted by the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee in June 2016. Prior to that time she had not been concerned about qualifying for coverage under the Horizon policy because her father had told her she qualified. She hired a lawyer with respect to a settlement. (Tr. 62-65, 72).
On October 25, 2016, the trustee, Blue Cross and Respondent agreed to a settlement whereby Respondent would pay the bankrupt estate 80% of the insurance premiums paid on her behalf and, in turn, she would be released from any further liability regarding the payments. Stephanie Poulos of Blue Cross reviewed the settlement draft and understood Blue Cross was not required to refund any money and was releasing all claims against Respondent. To Poulos' knowledge, Blue Cross never made a demand on Respondent or Horizon to pay the difference between the amount received as premiums and the amount paid out for claims. Poulos did not become aware that Respondent was not an employee of Horizon until months later when she received a subpoena from the ARDC. (Tr. 66-67, 90, 103-104, 158, 178; Adm. Ex. 10).
The trustee notified the ARDC.
After discussing the matter with the ARDC's ethics inquiry service and other attorneys, Bauch reported Respondent's conduct to the ARDC. In a November 2016 pleading filed with the bankruptcy court, Bauch stated he had been instructed by the ARDC to report Respondent's conduct. Bauch testified he was trying to demonstrate to the court that Respondent's family was using Horizon as their piggy bank to pay their personal expenses.
In the case before us, Respondent acknowledged she completed portions of insurance applications that identified her as an employee of Horizon when, in fact, she never worked for Horizon. Further, while covered by the Horizon policy, she submitted claims for medical services and received payments from Blue Cross. Those facts, while seemingly incriminating, must be viewed in light of other evidence and Respondent's explanations for her conduct.
Respondent denied that her actions stemmed from any calculated plan to deceive anyone; rather, she explained that in light of her father's statement that she could be added to the Horizon policy, she failed to give any real thought to her eligibility. We found Respondent to be a very credible witness and her explanation to be reasonable. In our opinion, her deference to her father's judgment was realistic in light of his position of authority in the company and the fact he would be expected to have knowledge of company benefits. Respondent's legal expertise, while extensive in the area of commercial real estate, did not encompass the interpretation of insurance benefit plans.
Even if Respondent had given greater thought to the language of the application form, the wording of the acknowledgement paragraph was vague in that it stated she was applying for coverage for which she was eligible or "may become" eligible. The Blue Cross representative was not asked to interpret that language, nor was it referenced in the terminology definitions we reviewed. With respect to an "x" next to "Active Employee," Respondent did not recall if she made that mark. Since at least one other person entered information on the application form, we draw no conclusions with respect to that mark. We also note there were no other options provided, such as "owner" or "other."
Aside from the issue of Respondent's motivations, which we conclude were innocent, we find there was a complete failure of proof as to whether she was, in fact, eligible for coverage. It was incumbent upon the Administrator to provide proof of the policy terms, requirements, benefits and definitions in place at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, but that proof was lacking.
We find that a violation of Rule 8.4(b) was not proved by clear and convincing evidence. The criminal statute requires that a person "knowingly" engage in a "deceptive act" to gain control of the property of an insurance company. In our discussion of Rule 8.4(c), we concluded that Respondent's conduct stemmed from her lack of attention and her assumptions based on statements made by her father, rather than from any knowing behavior or conscious deceptive act meant to deprive the insurance company of its property. Moreover, there was no evidence she had the proper materials in front of her that would establish the criteria for her insurance coverage, or that she knew those criteria. For those same reasons, we find Respondent did not knowingly engage in any deceptive act in violation of the insurance fraud statute.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney who had previously been suspended for a year
In response to grievances filed by former clients, the Bar investigated Respondent and on December 21, 2017, filed a formal Complaint setting forth eleven (11) counts of professional misconduct. In substance, these counts allege Respondent engaged in abusive discovery tactics, misrepresentations to courts, forgery of court documents, misappropriation of client funds, unauthorized contacts with opposing parties, a pattern of missing deadlines, untimely and improper motions for recusal, and retaliatory and frivolous lawsuits.
Respondent did not file an answer to the Complaint. Instead, he filed numerous "special appearance[s]," requests for recusal, subpoenas duces tecum, and other motions. With no timely answer from Respondent, the Bar filed a Motion to Deem Allegations Admitted on January 31, 2018. At the Scheduling Conference the same day, the Trial Panel said it would take the motion under advisement, explaining to Respondent that although he was out of time, it still believed an answer to the allegations would be "of great value to the Court." Sched. Conf. Tr. 116-17, Jan. 31, 2018. Although Respondent appeared at the Scheduling Conference and filed many motions, at no time did he file an answer to the Complaint or to the Motion to Deem Allegations Admitted.
The court rejected his alleged due process violations and sanctioned him
We are convinced, under a clear and convincing standard, of Respondent's sustained abuse of the legal system and retaliatory harassment of opposing counsel and the courts. We see no real evidence that Respondent appreciates the seriousness of his fraud and deceit, examples of which saturate the record. He adamantly denies his wrongdoing and attempts to justify some of the most maligning and egregious behaviors the Court has encountered. Our promulgated rules governing licensed attorneys require much more, and in fact, were fashioned to protect the public from this type of delinquency. Anything less than disbarment would invite further victimization and greater disintegration of public confidence in the legal system of this State. Likewise, to avoid disparate treatment, consistency requires that we disbar Respondent.