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TCL > April 2005 Issue > Summaries of Disciplinary Opinions

April 2005       Vol. 34, No. 4       Page  137
From the Courts
Colorado Disciplinary Cases

Summaries of Disciplinary Opinions

The summaries for the Presiding Disciplinary Judge and Hearing Board are prepared by the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge. The summaries of the decisions of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge are provided as a service by the Colorado Bar Association and are not the official language of the Decisions. The Colorado Bar Association cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the summaries.

Full copies of the Decisions generally follow the summaries pages. The summaries and full-text Decisions also are accessible from the CBA website: http://www.cobar.org (click on The Colorado Lawyer tab, then the appropriate issue). Decisions, including Exhibits, Complaints, and Amended Complaints and summaries, also are available at the Office of Presiding Disciplinary Judge website: http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDJ/pdj.htm, as well as on LexisNexis® at http://www.lexis.com/research, by clicking on States Legal-U.S./Colorado/Cases/CO Supreme Court Disciplinary Opinions from 1999.


People v. Blasé, No. 03PDJ094 (consolidated with 03PDJ106, 04PDJ005, and 04PDJ070), 01/10/05. Attorney Disbarred.

Upon conclusion of a sanctions hearing, the Hearing Board disbarred Respondent Tamatha Ann Blasé (registration number 23107) from the practice of law, effective February 10, 2005. In this proceeding, it was established through the entry of default that respondent engaged in a pattern of neglect, made misrepresentations to clients regarding actions taken, ceased communicating with clients, misappropriated client funds, and abandoned her practice without protecting her clients. Respondent’s misconduct impacted ten client matters, causing injury and/or potential injury to those clients. Accordingly, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (neglect of an entrusted legal matter); Colo. RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep client reasonably informed); Colo. RPC 1.15(c) (failure to keep disputed property separate); Colo. RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take steps to protect client interests and surrender papers/property upon termination); and Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

Respondent did not appear at the sanctions hearing or present evidence in mitigation. However, the Hearing Board considered the fact that respondent has no prior discipline. Aggravating factors included multiple offenses and a pattern of misconduct, vulnerable victims, substantial experience in the practice of law, a dishonest or selfish motive, and indifference to making restitution. The Hearing Board determined that under such circumstances, the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and controlling Colorado Supreme Court precedent support disbarment. Respondent also was ordered to pay the costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding. p.141.

People v. Franklin, No. 04PDJ047, 01/12/05. Attorney Disbarred.

Upon conclusion of a sanctions hearing, the Hearing Board disbarred Respondent James M. Franklin (registration number 6358) from the practice of law, effective February 12, 2005. In this proceeding, it was established through the entry of default that respondent did not return client money entrusted to him after posting the client’s bond. Rather, he kept the extra $9,900 in his possession. Without authorization, respondent used a portion of that money to post his own bond after he was arrested. The client had difficulty collecting from respondent, who ultimately retained $2,600. Also, respondent did not cooperate in the investigation of this matter. Therefore, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.15(a) (failure to keep client funds separate); Colo. RPC 1.15(b) (failure to deliver client property); Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (knowing violation of the rules of a tribunal); and Colo. RPC 8.1(b) (failure to respond reasonably to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority).

According to the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and controlling Colorado Supreme Court precedent, disbarment is the presumptive sanction for knowing conversion of client property entrusted to an attorney. Respondent did not provide an explanation for his misconduct and did not appear at the sanctions hearing to present evidence in mitigation. Although the Hearing Board considered the fact that respondent has never been disciplined in twenty-nine years of practice, it found no basis to deviate from the presumptive sanction. Respondent also was ordered to pay the costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding. p.145.

People v. Rider, No. 04PDJ077, 01/03/05. Attorney Disbarred.

Upon conclusion of a sanctions hearing, the Hearing Board disbarred Respondent Lawrence C. Rider (registration number 771) from the practice of law, effective February 3, 2005. In this proceeding, respondent admitted all factual allegations, and the Presiding Disciplinary Judge entered judgment on the pleadings. It was thereby established that respondent knowingly misappropriated $148,000 from the estate of an ill and elderly woman over eight years and while acting as her conservator. Respondent stole this money for his own personal use while making efforts to conceal his misconduct. Thus, respondent violated Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

According to the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and controlling Colorado Supreme Court precedent, disbarment is the presumptive sanction for knowing conversion of client property entrusted to an attorney. Although respondent appeared at the sanctions hearing and presented evidence in mitigation, the Hearing Board determined that his conduct was egregious and warranted disbarment. Respondent also was ordered to pay the costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding. p.146.

People v. Urbaniak, No. 04PDJ049, 12/13/04. Attorney Suspended for Three Years.

Upon conclusion of a sanctions hearing, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge suspended Respondent Joel E. Urbaniak (registration number 17513) from the practice of law for a period of three years, effective January 13, 2005. In this proceeding, it was established through the entry of default that respondent abandoned one civil client (plaintiff) and neglected two criminal clients (defendants). In the civil matter, respondent ceased communication with the client and discontinued all action on the case. In the criminal matters, respondent failed to appear at hearings. In addition, respondent did not respond to requests for information by Regulation Counsel. Thus, respondent violated Colo. R.P.C. 1.3 (neglect of an entrusted legal matter); Colo. R.P.C. 1.4(a) (failure to keep client reasonably informed); Colo. R.P.C. 3.4(c) (violation of an obligation under the rules of a tribunal); Colo. R.P.C. 8.1(b) (failure to respond to lawful demand for information from disciplinary authority); Colo. R.P.C. 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); and Colo. R.P.C. 1.16(d) (failure to protect client’s interest and surrender papers upon termination), as well as C.R.C.P. 251.5(d) (failure to respond to request by Regulation Counsel).

Respondent did not appear at the sanctions hearing or present evidence in mitigation. However, the facts supported a finding that respondent lacked a dishonest or selfish motive. Aggravating factors included multiple offenses, vulnerable victims, and substantial experience in the law. As this was a first offense and there was no other serious misconduct, the Hearing Board determined that a lengthy period of suspension, rather than disbarment, was the appropriate sanction. Respondent also was ordered to pay the costs incurred in this proceeding. p.149.

 

Summaries of Decisions Regarding Conditional Admission of Misconduct
Issued by the Presiding Disciplinary Judge

(Through February 17, 2005)

[The Presiding Disciplinary Judge’s approval of Conditional Admissions of Misconduct does not result in a written Opinion but only a brief Order, which does not constitute precedent. Conditional Admissions of Misconduct are public record and are available for review at the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge, 600 17th St., Suite 510-South, Denver, CO 80202; (303) 825-2797. They are also available on LexisNexisTM  at http://www.lexis.com/research by clicking on States Legal U.S./Colorado/Cases and Court Rules/By Court/Colorado Supreme Court Disciplinary Opinions.]

People v. Borquez, No. 03PDJ005, 02/17/05. Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and suspended Respondent Robert P. Borquez (registration number 19577) from the practice of law for a period of one year and one day. Suspension is effective March 20, 2005.

This proceeding arises out of respondent’s negligent mishandling of client funds. Respondent represented an insurance company in a subrogation matter. Although respondent collected a judgment in that matter, he did not remit all the funds to which the insurance company was entitled. Also, respondent’s records did not accurately reflect the dates and amounts actually collected, he did not maintain sufficient funds in his client trust account to make payment, and he withdrew attorney fees that were not earned from insurance company funds. In a number of other matters, respondent paid himself more in attorney fees and costs than the clients had paid into the trust account, and did not have sufficient funds in the trust account to cover client refunds issued. Therefore, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.15 (failure to safe-keep client property, failure to keep client property separate until there is an accounting and severance of interests, and failure to maintain adequate records), as well as Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation). Respondent was ordered to pay the costs incurred in this proceeding.

People v. Donaldson, No. 05PDJ009, 01/25/05. Attorney Suspension Stayed Pending Period of Probation.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and suspended Respondent James F. Donaldson (registration number 8951) from the practice of law for a period of thirty days. The suspension is stayed pending successful completion of a one-year period of probation, effective February 25, 2005.

This proceeding arises out of two separate matters, one involving the representation of a client and the other involving respondent’s client trust account. In his representation of a landlord in an eviction action, respondent did not obtain and file proof of proper service upon the tenants. He did not reschedule a return date or arrange for substituted service, allowing the case to languish. The client had to obtain new counsel. Thus, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (neglect of an entrusted legal matter) and Colo. RPC 1.4 (failure to keep client reasonably informed).

Respondent’s trust account became overdrawn when a client check was returned for insufficient funds. Also, respondent made cash withdrawals and paid certain minor operating/personal expenses out of the trust account, while failing to keep adequate records. Therefore, respondent failed to comply with the trust account requirements contained in Colo. RPC 1.15(f) and (g).

Conditions of probation include trust account training and payment of restitution. In addition, respondent was ordered to pay the costs incurred in this proceeding.

People v. Fife, No. 04PDJ117, 01/19/05. Attorney Suspended and a Portion of Suspension Stayed Pending Probation.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and suspended Respondent Charles L. Fife (registration number 17799) from the practice of law for a period of nine months, effective February 19, 2005. Seven months of the suspension is stayed pending successful completion of a two-year period of probation.

This proceeding arises out respondent’s illegal drug use and trust account mismanagement. Specifically, respondent used methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, at various times over the past three years. Respondent also failed to keep track of money earned from particular clients, instead making a practice of transferring money from his client trust account to his operating account based on financial considerations such as the needs of his law firm. Although respondent’s conduct did not harm any client or third party, respondent violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects); Colo. RPC 8.4(h) (conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law); Colo. RPC 1.15(a) (failure to keep client property separate); and Colo. RPC 1.15(g)-(h) (failure to maintain all required trust account records).

Conditions of probation include compliance with the recommendations contained in respondent’s psychiatric evaluation, as well as financial monitoring and audits. In addition, respondent was ordered to pay the costs incurred in this proceeding.

People v. Garcia, No. 04PDJ084, 01/07/05. Attorney Disbarred.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and disbarred Respondent Felix D. Garcia (registration number 13736) from the practice of law, effective February 7, 2005. Respondent also was ordered to pay the costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding. In the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, respondent pled guilty to a felony criminal charge involving conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Under C.R.C.P. 251.5(b), any act or omission that violates the criminal laws of the United States shall constitute grounds for discipline.

As a result of his conviction, respondent violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects). According to the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and controlling Colorado Supreme Court precedent, disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer engages in serious criminal conduct, including the sale, distribution, or importation of controlled substances.

People v. Hahn, Nos. 03PDJ108 & 04PDJ096, 12/17/04. Attorney Suspension Stayed Pending Completion of Probation.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and suspended Respondent James Henry Hahn (registration number 12811) from the practice of law for a period of seven months, effective January 17, 2005. Six months of the suspension is stayed pending successful completion of a two-year period of probation.

This proceeding arises out of respondent’s mishandling of client funds. Specifically, respondent commingled personal funds with client funds, failed to maintain an appropriate record-keeping system, and wrote a temporary check payable to cash from his clients’ trust account in the amount of $20,000. Although no client was harmed as a result of respondent’s actions, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.15, regarding the safekeeping of client property, the establishment of trust accounts, and the keeping of records. This misconduct, and the resulting disciplinary complaint (04PDJ096), constituted a violation of probation in a previous disciplinary matter (03PDJ108).

Conditions of probation include financial monitoring and auditing. In addition, respondent was ordered to pay costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding.

People v. Worth, No. 04PDJ090, 01/07/05. Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the party’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct and suspended Respondent Anthony L. Worth (registration number 3330) from the practice of law for a period of seven months, effective February 7, 2005.

This is a reciprocal discipline case. Respondent lives and practices in Oregon, where he was sanctioned in two disciplinary proceedings. Under C.R.C.P. 251.21(a), a final adjudication of misconduct subjecting an attorney to discipline in another jurisdiction conclusively establishes the misconduct in Colorado disciplinary proceedings.

The Oregon Supreme Court found that respondent neglected three post-conviction relief matters, while failing to return a document of importance to a client and failing to provide full, truthful, and timely responses to inquiries. The Oregon Supreme Court also found that respondent failed to prosecute a landlord-tenant dispute on behalf of the tenant, which resulted in dismissal of the case. Further, respondent made knowing misrepresentations to the trial court. Therefore, respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.1 (failure to provide competent representation); Colo. RPC 1.3 (neglect of an entrusted legal matter); Colo. RPC 1.16(a)(1) (failure to withdraw when representation will result in a violation of the rules of professional conduct); Colo. RPC 1.16(d) (failure to surrender papers and property upon termination); Colo. RPC 3.3(a)(1) (false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal); Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

In accordance with C.R.C.P. 251.21(d), the sanction is the same as that imposed in the foreign jurisdiction. In addition, respondent was ordered to pay costs incurred in conjunction with this proceeding.

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