ARDC Hearing Board Recommends Two Year Suspension For Lawyer Who Threatened Administrator

Filed July 7:

This was a routine disciplinary investigation concerning a fee dispute and a client relations dispute until the respondent lawyer began to make voicemail threats to the Administrator. The Hearing Board recommended that he be suspended for two years and until further order of court. Please note that the lawyer defaulted and did not answer the complaint so the facts were deemed admitted against him.

Count I concerned the respondent’s actions in presenting a client with a $10,000 promissory note in order for him to handle a trial. The respondent violated Rule 1.8(a) by not instructing the client to obtain separate counsel to review the agreement.  The Panel’s recitation of the facts follows:

“Beginning in March 2011, Respondent represented Dr. Rex Nzeribe in an action for dissolution of marriage. By May 2012, Dr. Nzeribe had paid Respondent approximately $4,450 in fees and costs. (Second Amended Complaint (Sec. Am. Compl.) at pars. 1, 2, 3).

However, as of May 10, 2012, Dr. Nzeribe had told Respondent he wished to terminate Respondent’s services and Respondent had sent Dr. Nzeribe notice of his motion to withdraw. The motion to withdraw was to be heard on May 16, 2012. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 4, 5).
Trial was scheduled to begin on May 21, 2012, and the court denied the motion to withdraw. The court also heard a motion to compel Dr. Nzeribe’s deposition. The court granted that motion and ordered Dr. Nzeribe to appear for his deposition later the same day. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 5, 7).
After these rulings, Respondent asked Dr. Nzeribe to pay him $10,000 in additional legal fees. Dr. Nzeribe refused. Respondent then informed Dr. Nzeribe that he would not represent Dr. Nzeribe at the deposition unless Dr. Nzeribe signed a promissory note, which required him to pay Respondent $10,000 in installments over the next four years. Believing he had no alternative, other than to represent himself, Dr. Nzeribe agreed, even though he did not owe Respondent $10,000. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 8, 9).
Ultimately, the trial began on May 22, 2012 and continued through May 24, 2012. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 10, 11). In the meantime, Respondent had prepared a promissory note, under which Dr. Nzeribe was to pay Respondent $10,000, with interest at four percent per year, in monthly installments of $250, beginning on July 15, 2012. Respondent presented the note to Dr. Nzeribe for signature on May 23, 2012. At that time, Respondent told Dr. Nzeribe that he would not continue to represent Dr. Nzeribe if he did not sign the note. Respondent did not inform Dr. Nzeribe of the risks involved with Respondent acting as both Dr. Nzeribe’s legal advisor and a participant in the transaction. He did not obtain Dr. Nzeribe’s informed consent to the transaction. Respondent also did not advise Dr. Nzeribe of his right to seek independent counsel or give him a reasonable opportunity to do so. Respondent did not tell Dr. Nzeribe that, as Dr. Nzeribe’s attorney, Respondent could not enter into a business transaction with Dr. Nzeribe, unless certain requirements were met. Dr. Nzeribe signed the note, believing he had no other alternative, if he wanted representation at trial. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 9, 12-14).”
By failing to advise the client to obtain independent legal advice, the lawyer violated Rule 1.8(a).
Count II was a charge that the lawyer violated Rule 4.4(a) by making angry, harassing communications to a client.
Count III contained a much more serious charge that the Respondent violated Rule 8.4(b) by making threats to the ARDC’s attorney.  
The Hearing Panel found the facts to be these:
“From July 2015 through September 2016, Respondent made multiple telephone calls to a number he knew belonged to Scott Renfroe, the attorney then representing the Administrator in this case. All the calls were placed outside of normal business hours, and Respondent left voice mail messages. Respondent made each call with the intent to abuse, threaten or harass Renfroe. Respondent also sent Renfroe two electronic communications, sending each with the intent to threaten injury to Renfroe. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 26-29, 31, 33-34, 36). Here, the “electronic communications” were e-mails, and we refer to them accordingly.
Respondent’s messages to Renfroe, by voice mail and e-mail where indicated, are summarized briefly below. The Second Amended Complaint outlined the messages in greater detail and included additional insults and expletives contained in the messages. (Sec. Am. Compl. at pars. 26-29, 31, 33-34, 36). Respondent’s messages were:
July 8, 2015, 7:39 p.m.: “You will apologize to me for wasting my time, end this or you will not make an example of me, I will make an example of you and your filthy ARDC organization ? this will not end pretty for you, for me, anyone, drop this now ?”
(Sec. Am. Compl. at par. 26).
July 8, 2015, 7:51 p.m.: “By the way, this is a fact, not a threat. When I get cancer, you will be the first to know about it.” (Sec. Am. Compl. at par. 27).
August 5, 2015, 9:46 p.m.: “When I get cancer, I am going to kill you with my bare hands.”
(Sec. Am. Compl. at par. 28).
January 6, 2016, 11:59 p.m., by e-mail: “I just noticed something on my neck, could be cancer, I hope so. (wink!)” The message concluded: “I shall never forget the kindness you and your filthy government comrades have shown me in these matters. ?The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants ? to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.’?”
(Sec. Am. Compl. at par. 29).”
Obviously, these are serious threats and would concern any disciplinary body. The respondent was suspended for two years and must reapply and prove he is fit to practice law before he would be allowed to practice law.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

‘via Blog this’

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