Utah State Bar Ethics Hotline
Call the Bar’s Ethics Hotline at (801) 531-9110 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for fast, informal ethics advice. Leave a detailed message describing the problem and within a twenty-four hour workday period a lawyer from the Office of Professional Conduct will give you ethical help about small everyday matters and larger complex issues.
More information about the Bar’s Ethics Hotline may be found at www.utahbar.org/opc/opc_ethics_hotline.html. Information about the formal Ethics Advisory Opinion process can be found at www.utahbar.org/rules_ops_pols/index_of_opinions.html.
On March 1, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Admonition against an attorney for violation of Rules 1.15(a) (Safekeeping Property) and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The attorney held personal funds in the attorney’s client trust account in excess of the minimal amount allowed to maintain the account.
On January 26, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Admonition against an attorney for violation of Rules 1.3 (Diligence), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The attorney failed to respond to requests for admissions served on the client which resulted in the facts being deemed admitted. The attorney failed to respond to the Office of Professional ConductÕs Notice of Informal Complaint. The attorney’s conduct caused little harm as it is not clear whether the judge considered the deemed admissions. The attorney’s conduct was negligent.
Remorse; absence of prior record of discipline; absence of a dishonest or selfish motive.
On January 26, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Admonition against an attorney for violation of Rules 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The attorney failed to timely prepare documents needed to finalize a client’s divorce decree. The attorney failed to diligently pursue child support issues raised by his client. The attorney failed to keep the client informed about the status of the finalization of the divorce decree. The attorney failed to inform the client about opposing counsel’s motion seeking the release of the monies held in escrow that the client wanted held until the child support dispute was resolved. The attorney failed to respond to the Office of Professional Conduct’s Notice of Informal Complaint. The attorney’s conduct was negligent and caused little injury.
Remorse; absence of prior record of discipline; absence of a dishonest or selfish motive.
On February 8, 2012, the Honorable Deno G. Himonas, Third Judicial District Court, entered an Order of Discipline: Probation against Holly J. Mahoney for violation of Rules 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 1.15(d) (Safekeeping Property), 1.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Ms. Mahoney was hired to represent a client regarding the special education needs of the client’s son. The client paid Ms. Mahoney a retainer fee and signed a retainer agreement. Ms. Mahoney failed to file a due process request with the school on behalf of the client’s son. The attorney failed to respond to numerous e-mails and telephone calls from the client over a nine month period. Ms. Mahoney did not send monthly billing statements to the client as outlined in the retainer agreement. Due to Ms. Mahoney’s lack of diligence and communication, the client terminated her services and sought new counsel. The client asked Ms. Mahoney for his file and a refund. After the client submitted his complaint to the OPC, Ms. Mahoney returned his file, but did not refund his fees. Ms. Mahoney indicated to the client that he owed additional fees but that she was willing to waive the fees and call it even.
On February 28, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Douglas A. Baxter, for violation of Rules 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 1.4(b) (Communication), 1.5(b) Fees, and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Mr. Baxter failed to prosecute a case. Mr. Baxter failed to advise his client on the status of the case and failed to express his views on the merits of the case. Mr. Baxter failed to discuss the effect of the dismissal without prejudice. Mr. Baxter failed to have a clear communication on fees. In this respect, the client thought the amount paid was the total fee and Mr. Baxter thought it was a retainer. Mr. Baxter’s mental state was generally negligent behavior. Mr. Baxter caused actual injury to the client in the form of stress and in the form of the dismissal of the action. Mr. Baxter’s actions also damaged the legal system generally.
On January 26, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Jeanne T. Campbell, for violation of Rules 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Ms. Campbell assisted a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law when she returned phone calls to his clients while he was in the hospital. Ms. Campbell was aware that the non-lawyer was doing legal work for individuals and, at the very least, should have been aware that his preparation of bankruptcy petitions in Colorado without supervision violated the professional standards in that jurisdiction. Ms. Campbell’s mental state was generally negligent in that she failed to heed a substantial risk that the non-lawyer was practicing law without a license in violation of Colorado’s professional standards. Ms. Campbell’s conduct did not cause injury to the client, but did cause some injury to the legal profession by allowing a non-lawyer, who failed to meet a client’s needs, purport to be an attorney. Ms. Campbell failed to respond to the Office of Professional Conduct’s Notice of Informal Complaint. The Notice of Informal Complaint was sent to Ms. Campbell’s address of record which she did not consistently occupy. It was Ms. Campbell’s obligation to take steps to ensure she received correspondence from the Bar.
On February 28, 2012, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Marlin G. Criddle, for violation of Rules 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 1.4(b) (Communication), 1.5(c) (Fees), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Mr. Criddle was hired to represent the Complainant in pursuing a wrongful death case on a contingency fee basis. No fee agreement was signed. Mr. Criddle failed to provide competent representation by accepting and attempting to litigate a medical malpractice/wrongful death case, for which he lacked knowledge, experience, and competence. Mr. Criddle failed to pursue the medical malpractice/wrongful death action in a reasonable time frame. Mr. Criddle failed to reasonably consult with his client regarding his client’s objectives. Mr. Criddle failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the action. Mr. Criddle failed to explain the dismissal options to his client so that the client could make an informed decision regarding the dismissal. Mr. Criddle’s communication failures and dismissal of his client’s case without consent caused injury to the public, the legal system, and his client’s right to make decisions regarding the prosecution of the case.
Vulnerability of victim; substantial experience in the practice of law; and failure to satisfy conditions of a Diversion Agreement.
Absence of prior discipline; absence of a dishonest or selfish motive; personal or emotional problems; remorse; and acceptance of responsibility.
On January 31, 2012, the Honorable Samuel D. McVey, Fourth Judicial District Court, entered an Order of Discipline: Suspension suspending Allen F. Thomason from the practice of law for a period of one year for violation of Rules 3.3(a) and (d) (Candor Toward the Tribunal), 4.4(a) (Respect for Rights of Third Persons), 8.4(b), (c), (d), and (e) (Misconduct), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Complainant and his wife, had been having domestic problems and were seeking a divorce. Mr. Thomason befriended the wife and attempted to assist her with a DUI. Mr. Thomason went to the marital home on one occasion and had words with the husband. After a domestic dispute in which police were called and the wife was told to leave the home, Mr. Thomason went to the marital home on behalf of the wife and removed the locks from the doors. The husband went to the home to see if his wife was gone and saw the locks had been removed. He went into the home and encountered Mr. Thomason. After the two had words again, the husband left the home and called the police. The husband then asked his mother if she would go to the marital home and retrieve his camcorder and camera. When the mother went to the marital home to pick up the camera, Mr. Thomason confronted her and blocked her from leaving the room. Mr. Thomason told her that he was a judge and she was under arrest. After several minutes, the mother put down the camcorder and was allowed to leave the room. When the officers arrived Mr. Thomason refused to wait near the curb as instructed by the police. Mr. Thomason declared several times that the responding police officers were “under arrest.” Mr. Thomason made threats against the officers, claiming that he was a judge, and held more arrest authority than the officers. Mr. Thomason was cited for “Interfering w/Legal Arrest”, a violation of Utah Code Section 76-8-305, for his interference with the officers’ investigation. The Provo City Justice Court held a trial where Mr. Thomason was found guilty of interfering with a legal arrest. Mr. Thomason appealed the conviction and later entered into a Diversion. After the incident at the marital home, Mr. Thomason filed an Ex Parte Stalking Injunction against the husband, claiming that he had been assaulted when the evidence did not support this. The Ex Parte Stalking Injunction obtained by Mr. Thomason caused harm to the husband. Mr. Thomason exhibited a lack of candor in his filings with the court. Mr. Thomason attempted to delay the stalking injunction hearing so that the husband would not be able to participate in hunting season. Mr. Thomason also sent several e-mails to the husband’s divorce attorney that contained numerous misrepresentations. Mr. Thomason threatened to file Judicial Conduct complaints against the police officers when he had no grounds to do so. Mr. Thomason threatened to file civil suits against the Complainants unless they dropped their Bar complaint. Mr. Thomason made unfounded accusations of unethical conduct against the husband’s attorney.
On January 10, 2012, the Honorable Steven Hansen, Fourth District Court, entered Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order of Disbarment against Ross K. Moore for violation of Rules 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 1.15(c) (Safekeeping Property), 1.15(d) (Safekeeping Property), 1.16(d) (Declining or Terminating Representation), 8.1(b) (Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters), 8.4(b) (Misconduct), 8.4(c) (Misconduct), 8.4(d) (Misconduct), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In summary, there are several matters:
Mr. Moore agreed to hold in escrow a large sum of money for investors. The money was transferred by wire to Mr. Moore by a client, who was assisting with the investment of the funds. The funds were to be invested in a franchise in a particular location. Mr. Moore failed to place the funds in a separate trust account, but rather put the money in his own account. A month later, the investors requested the return of the money because the deal did not materialize and the investors wanted the money back to secure another building for the investment. Mr. Moore returned some of the funds but retained the rest. Over the next several weeks the investors demanded an accounting of the funds and demanded return of the remaining funds. Mr. Moore sent an e-mail letter to the investors stating that the money has been “illegally seized” by a bank when it had not. He told the investors that if they complained to the Bar, it would take longer and cost the investors more to get the money back. Months later, Mr. Moore had not returned the remaining funds and the investors again demanded the money. Mr. Moore continued to promise to pay but failed to pay the money. The investors called Mr. Moore several times, but the calls were not answered and messages were not returned by Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore finally met with the investors and agreed to pay an additional amount of money at a specified time. Mr. Moore indicated that the funds already paid to the investors came from funds owned by other clients. As part of a settlement agreement between Mr. Moore and the investors, the Complainant was to withdraw his Bar Complaint in exchange for the return. The investors wrote to Mr. Moore that they were in serious trouble because of the delay in the return of the money. Mr. Moore then represented that he was getting the money from a wealthy client to pay the investors. After the investors hired an attorney to assist in collecting the funds, Mr. Moore paid the investors by cashiers check. Mr. Moore had not earned any of the money entrusted to him to be held in escrow. Mr. Moore did not provide an accounting to the investors.
Mr. Moore was retained to represent a homeowner in warranty claims against her home builder. The homeowner paid Mr. Moore to prepare a demand letter listing the defects she wanted corrected. The homeowner’s only contact with Mr. Moore’s office was through a paralegal. Mr. Moore never completed the letter. The homeowner left several voicemails in an attempt to contact Mr. Moore or his paralegal by telephone. Mr. Moore did not return the phone calls. Mr. Moore did not respond to several e-mails sent to him and his paralegal. Eventually, all communication between the homeowner and Mr. Moore’s office ceased. The homeowner tried to obtain a copy of her file, which contained original closing documents, but Mr. Moore did not return the file. When the homeowner went to Mr. Moore’s office, she found it vacant.
Mr. Moore represented a client in a criminal matter. A pretrial conference was held and Mr. Moore failed to appear, although his client did appear. Another pretrial conference was held and again Mr. Moore failed to appear even though his client did appear. When the court issued an Order to Show Cause for Mr. Moore to appear and show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Mr. Moore failed to respond. The court issued a bench warrant against Mr. Moore.
Mr. Moore was retained initially to assist with the wind down of a client’s company. As part of the representation, Mr. Moore was to respond in a civil case and to file petitions for personal bankruptcy for the owner and his son. Mr. Moore was paid for the work. After the wind down of the company and after cashing out insurance policies, the owner put money in a bank account for further negotiations. Mr. Moore advised the owner to give him the money to put in his trust account for safe keeping; the owner agreed and the money was given to Mr. Moore. After retaining Mr. Moore to file a personal bankruptcy for him, the son became concerned because he had not heard from Mr. Moore. The son contacted Mr. Moore; and Mr. Moore responded by giving him a case number and stating that his bankruptcy petition had been filed. After many attempts to contact Mr. Moore without a response, the son hired a new attorney to pursue the bankruptcy. The son’s new attorney discovered that no Petition for Bankruptcy had been filed and that the case number given by Mr. Moore was not valid. Mr. Moore had also failed to file an Answer in the civil matter and Judgment was entered against the owner’s company in the civil case. The owner became concerned about the money he had given Mr. Moore to hold in trust and told Mr. Moore that he wanted the money returned. Mr. Moore did not respond, so the owner went to Mr. Moore’s home. Mr. Moore sent a text message stating that he would send the owner the address of a bank where the owner could get the money that day. The owner did not receive the bank address and demanded his money and his files to be returned that day. In response to the demand, Mr. Moore admitted that he had not deposited the money in trust but had deposited the money into his account to secure a short term line of credit for some “deals” that Mr. Moore was making. Mr. Moore stated “if you are willing to wait six weeks without making any waves, I will happily pay you an additional $5K for your trouble.” Mr. Moore stated that he would pay some of the funds and left a portion of the money in a drain spout at the owner’s home texting him about where the money was. The owner asked Mr. Moore to provide an accounting of what he had done with the money; Mr. Moore did not respond. The owner’s son made several attempts to get Mr. Moore to return the money, but Mr. Moore did not return calls. The owner then hired an attorney to assist in obtaining the money from Mr. Moore and to assist with his company’s legal representation. The new attorney sent a letter to Mr. Moore demanding that the money be returned and that Mr. Moore provide an accounting; Mr. Moore did not respond. To date, Mr. Moore has returned only a small portion of the original funds.
The OPC served a Notice of Informal Complaint on Mr. Moore, requesting information from him in all of the matters. Mr. Moore did not respond in writing to these requests. Mr. Moore also failed to appear at the Screening Panel Hearing in two of the matters.
Refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of the misconduct; dishonest or selfish motive; a pattern of misconduct; multiple offenses; vulnerability of victims; and illegal conduct.