The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 43, No. 6 [Page 85]
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From the Courts
Colorado Disciplinary Cases
Disciplinary Case Summaries
The summaries of disciplinary case Opinions and Conditional Admissions of Misconduct are prepared by the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge (PDJ) and are provided as a service by the Colorado Bar Association (CBA). The CBA cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the summaries. The full text of the disciplinary Opinions, when published by the PDJ, follows the summaries page(s). The summaries and full-text Opinions also are accessible from the CBA website: www.cobar.org (click on "Opinions/Rules/Statutes"). Opinions, including exhibits, complaints, amended complaints, and summaries, also are available at the PDJ website, www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDJ/pdj.htm, and on LexisNexis.®
Summary of Decision Issued by the PDJ
No. 13PDJ080. People v. Ritland. 03/24/2014. Attorney Suspended.
Following a sanctions hearing, the Hearing Board suspended Stephanie A. Ritland, attorney registration number 35763, for three years. The suspension was effective April 11, 2014.
Ritland engaged in misconduct in the course of seeking to adopt her second-cousin’s baby. She circumvented proper channels for the adoption by falsely listing her own husband as the birth father on the baby’s birth certificate, and she later filed a petition for stepparent adoption in which she referred to her husband as the birth father. She also counseled her husband to falsely aver that he was the birth father in a related filing.
Ritland stipulated that these actions violated Colo. RPC 1.2(d) (counseling a client to engage in criminal or fraudulent conduct); 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making false statements of material fact to a tribunal); 3.3(d) (informing the tribunal of material facts in an ex parte proceeding); 3.4(b) (falsifying evidence or counseling or assisting a witness to testify falsely); 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). After the matter proceeded to a sanctions hearing, the Hearing Board concluded that the appropriate sanction was a three-year suspension.
Summaries of Decisions Regarding
Conditional Admission of Misconduct Issued by the PDJ
The PDJ’s approval of a Conditional Admission 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 PDJ, 1560 Broadway, Ste. 675, Denver, CO 80202; (303) 866-6658; www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDJ/pdj.htm. They also are available on LexisNexis.®
No. 14PDJ035. People v. Buckingham III. 04/17/2014. Attorney Suspended.
The PDJ approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Edward T. Buckingham III, attorney registration number 08218, for eighteen months. The suspension was effective May 21, 2014.
Buckingham was the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. On February 20, 2014, he was found guilty of the following crimes: (1) use of public supplies, services, time, and personnel for campaign activities; (2) use of the name of a government department or agency to campaign and/or express support for a candidate running for public office; (3) three violations of misconduct in public office; (4) theft of services; and (5) conspiracy to commit theft of services. Buckingham’s sentences for these offenses ranged from six months to one year of imprisonment, all suspended. He paid $14,000 in fines and was placed on one year of unsupervised probation. Through this conduct, Buckingham violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b), which proscribes criminal acts that reflect adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.
No. 13PDJ074, Consolidated with No. 13PDJ084. People v. Christman. 04/17/2014. Attorney Suspended.
The PDJ approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Andrea Christman, attorney registration number 42796, for one year and one day. The suspension was effective April 17, 2014.
Christman represented a client in a child support matter in which the client noticed that outdated financial information had been used in a motion to modify child support. The client e-mailed Christman from September 2012 through May 2013 about her concerns and to request a refund of the unused portion of her retainer, but Christman failed to communicate with the client or take further action on the client’s behalf. Christman thereby violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (diligence), 1.4(a)(3) and (4) (communication), 1.16(c) (seeking a tribunal’s permission to withdraw), and 1.16(d) (protecting a client’s interests on termination of the representation).
In another client matter, Christman agreed to represent a client in a post-decree matter. When the client was accused of failing to comply with court orders, an advisement hearing on contempt was set, but Christman failed to appear. The court then attempted to contact Christman during the advisement but could not reach her. Through this conduct, Christman violated Colo. RPC 1.3, 1.4(a)(3) and (4), 1.16(c), and 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
Christman also agreed to represent a client in an action involving partition of real property, although she had no experience in such matters. She did not (1) obtain or request any documents other than the complaint for partition, (2) file a response to the complaint, (3) disclose any documents, or (4) notify her client that a decree and order for partition had been issued, thereby contravening Colo. RPC 1.1 (competence), 1.3, and 1.4(a)(3).
On three occasions, Christman allowed a third-party vendor to automatically deduct funds from her trust account, in violation of Colo. RPC 1.15(i)(2), which prohibits using a debit card or ATM card to withdraw trust account funds. In three other client matters, Christman did not notify her clients that she had moved to New Mexico, even though she remained listed as counsel of record in these cases after she had moved. In these cases, Christman neglected her clients’ legal matters, did not timely notify her clients of developments in their cases, and failed to respond to her clients’ requests for communication, thereby violating Colo. RPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4(a)(3), and 1.16(d).
No. 14PDJ033. People v. Gillum. 04/15/2014. Attorney Suspended.
The PDJ approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Shawn Eric Gillum, attorney registration number 35682, for sixty days, all stayed on the successful completion of a three-year period of probation with conditions. The probation was effective April 15, 2014.
In February 2013, Gillum and his girlfriend got into an argument after drinking together, and Gillum’s girlfriend walked away to try to find a cab. Gillum drove after her in his car. He pushed her down, grabbed her hair, and kicked her two or three times on her shins. He then grabbed her purse and struck her across the face with it, causing a black eye and a lump on her head. Forty-eight hours later, after learning that the police were looking for him, Gillum turned himself in.
On March 26, 2013, Gillum pleaded guilty in Denver General Sessions court to one count of assault and one count of disturbing the peace, both misdemeanors. He received a two-year supervised deferred judgment on both counts. Before the incident in question, Gillum had never hit the victim or threatened her with violence. Gillum has abided by the terms of his probation and the victim’s restraining order.
Through his conduct, Gillum violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b), which provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.
No. 14PDJ026. People v. Morrissette. 04/08/2014. Attorney Suspended.
The PDJ approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended April Renee Morrissette, attorney registration number 35247, for six months, with the requirement of reinstatement proceedings pursuant to CRCP 251.29(c). The suspension was effective April 8, 2014.
On August 14, 2013, in a separate disciplinary matter, Morrissette’s law license was suspended for one year and one day, with six months served and the remainder stayed pending the completion of a two-year period of probation. In January 2014, Morrissette was stopped for speeding on her way from Denver to Grand Junction. She told the De Beque town marshall who stopped her that she was an attorney and that she could not get another speeding ticket because she had too many points already against her driver’s license. Nevertheless, the marshall wrote her a ticket. She was permitted to contest the ticket by appearing in De Beque Municipal Court on February 24, 2014.
Morrissette contacted a De Beque municipal court clerk and told her that she needed to change her court date because she was an attorney and had a conflicting hearing. She then repeated this misrepresentation to a second De Beque municipal court clerk.
Morrissette also contacted a paralegal for the De Beque town prosecutor, telling her that she was an attorney and had been traveling to a hearing in Mesa County Court when she was stopped for speeding. Morrissette made the same false statement to the town prosecutor himself, and she also told him that she had to appear in court on the Front Range on February 24, 2014. In addition, she wrote a letter to the De Beque Municipal Court requesting a continuance of her hearing because she was an attorney with a conflicting hearing date.
According to Morrissette, she believed at the time of these statements that she would be reinstated to the practice of law and that, after taking over certain cases from another attorney, she would be representing clients in court on February 24, 2014. By engaging in the conduct described above, Morrissette violated Colo. RPC 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of material fact to a tribunal) and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).
No. 14PDJ032. People v. Tinder. 04/10/2014. Attorney Suspended.
The PDJ approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended John William Tinder, attorney registration number 39915, for six months, all stayed on the successful completion of a two-year period of probation with conditions. The probation was effective May 15, 2014.
In 2012 and 2013, Tinder represented a client in a bankruptcy proceeding. The bankruptcy court approved a settlement on August 1, 2013, and Tinder’s client agreed to pay the trustee $150,000 in two payments. The first payment of $105,000 was payable on August 8, 2013. That payment was not timely made. On August 30, 2013, the date by which counsel for the trustee had warned Tinder that he would file an objection to Tinder’s client discharge, Tinder left counsel for the trustee a voicemail indicating that he had deposited the settlement funds into his COLTAF account but was running late and might not deliver the settlement check to his office until after 5:00 p.m. Tinder did not deliver the check and instead informed counsel for the trustee that he would deliver the check the morning of September 3, 2013.
On September 3, 2013, Tinder again left counsel for the trustee a voicemail, indicating that the bank would not release the funds because the deposit had been made in cash. He then promised to promptly deliver the check. At 4:48 p.m. on September 3, 2013, Tinder left the trustee’s counsel another message, this time stating that his client would be delivering the settlement check, but the client was stuck in traffic. After 6:00 p.m., Tinder’s client delivered the check, which was written on Tinder’s COLTAF account. The trustee’s counsel notified Tinder the next day that he was going to deposit the check that day. Tinder called him back and explained that he needed to confirm with the bank whether the funds would be released. Later that day, Tinder told counsel for the trustee that he had not heard from the bank but had an appointment there early the next morning.
The check was eventually deposited on September 9, 2013. Two days later, the trustee was notified that the check had been returned unpaid due to a stop payment order put in place by Tinder. In fact, Tinder’s client never deposited the settlement funds into Tinder’s COLTAF account. Tinder admits he made untrue statements to the trustee’s counsel. Although he claims his client told him the funds had been deposited into Tinder’s COLTAF account by September 3, 2013, Tinder did not confirm that deposit until after the check had been delivered to counsel for the trustee. Moreover, after he learned that the deposit had not been made, he did not notify the trustee’s counsel or the trustee that the funds were unavailable. The trustee filed a civil lawsuit against Tinder to recover treble damages, and that lawsuit is still pending.
By repeatedly misrepresenting the possession of settlement funds in his COLTAF account, Tinder violated Colo. RPC 8.4(c), which proscribes conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.
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