Fifth Circuit Suspends a Lawyer For One Year For Missing Deadline and Making False Statements To Court

This discipline matter arose out of a foreclosure case which was removed to federal court. The court ordered the attorney to draft and file an amended complaint, but the attorney missed the deadline. The case was then dismissed. The attorney then filed a Rule 60(b) motion in which he claimed that he had not received the orders of the court because they had an incorrect email address for him. Because this assertion was not accurate the district court requested further information and issued a rule to show cause. The Fifth Circuit explains:

In his Verified Response, Ramos admitted he had received the e-mail notifications for the litigation but claimed he only became aware of them after conducting further research of his e-mail account and submitting the correct e-mail address to the clerk’s office. Ramos stated he began drafting the motion for reconsideration prior to this realization, but due to an undisclosed personal difficulty, he failed to update the motion to reflect his knowledge of the e-mails. Ramos maintained his statements to the court regarding his lack of e-mail notification were not knowing or intentional misrepresentations. He also requested the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Texas convene a three-judge panel pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.8(h)(3) to make any final determination concerning possible discipline. The district court determined Ramos’s Verified Response raised additional concerns for why disciplinary action should be considered and created a separate miscellaneous matter to address this issue.

On February 8, 2016, the district court entered an order in the separate cause setting forth its basis for concern over Ramos’s actions. The district court concluded that Ramos’s (1) failure to comply with Rule 83.13(b), even if based on his staff’s errors, demonstrated his inability to conduct litigation properly, (2) acknowledged lack of receipt of electronic notice also demonstrated his inability to conduct litigation properly, (3) failure to read court e-mails and to file a truthful motion due to distractions in his personal life is unethical conduct that is unbecoming a member of the bar, and (4) request for a three-judge panel to hear any disciplinary action against him was a further indication of Ramos’s inability to conduct litigation properly. Although the district court noted Ramos took several mitigating steps,[2] the court found them to be unpersuasive and inferred Ramos’s actions were merely used to hide his mistake from his client. Before ruling definitively on the disciplinary action, the district court deemed it appropriate to provide Ramos an additional opportunity to file a written response and to request a hearing before the court.

On February 17, 2016, Ramos filed his latest response with his and his client’s declarations attached. Ramos claimed that his errors and omissions in the underlying action were the result of inexperience and poor business practices rather than deceitful or intentional conduct. In his declaration, Ramos noted that he sought the assistance of a solo-practice management expert to review his “client intake, case correspondence, and services-planning protocols to assure errors and lack of oversight and redundancy . . . do not occur again.” Based on these factors and the fact he fully explained the matter to his client, Ramos argued he lacked “the bad faith element necessary for severe sanctions such as suspension or disbarment . . . .” He also communicated a willingness to attend any CLE or other education programs the court deemed necessary to improve his law practice. Upon review of Ramos’s response, the district court determined a further response was necessary before it could determine what disciplinary action to take. The court ordered Ramos to submit his risk-management plan and a statement from the solo-practice management expert describing the nature of his advice to Ramos no later than March 21, 2016. Both documents were filed under seal.

On March 22, 2016, the district court entered an order suspending Ramos from practicing in the Northern District of Texas for four years.

The Fifth Circuit reduced the suspension to one year, holding that a four-year suspension was too much given the relative lack of experience of the lawyer.

If you have an ethics question, do not hesitate to contact me. 312-357-1515 extension 1.

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