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The VI Bar Herald
      The Source for VI Legal Info       OnePaper Community Edition       December 10th, 2018      
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Opinion of Professional Ethics & Grievance Committee
by Diane Russell, St. Croix Committee Co-Chair

     This matter was adjudicated on December 28,1999. The Grievant participated by telephone and the Respondent appeared in person. Three members of the St. Croix Subcommittee of the Virgin Islands Bar Association's Professional Ethics and Grievance Committee, who constituted the adjudicatory panel, were also present. After listening to and reviewing the documentary evidence in this matter, the adjudicatory panel renders the following findings and conclusions:
     1) Respondent Violated Rule 8.1 of Model Rules of Professional Conduct
     Rule 8.1 (b) imposes a duty on a lawyer to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority. Thus) the failure to respond is a violation of the Rule, and the majority of courts hold that a failure to respond is a disciplinary violation separate from the underlying disciplinary matter. See, e.g. In re NeUl, 486 NW2d 150 (Minn. 1992); In re Stricker, 808 SW2d 356 (Mo. 1991); Commission Legal Ethics of the West Virginia State Bar v. Cometti, 430 SE 2d 320 (W.Va. 1993). Moreover, a lawyer's failure to respond, within a reasonable time, to a disciplinary authority's request for information concerning ethical violations has been held to constitute an admission of the underlying allegations for purposes of the disciplinary proceeding. Commission 071 Legal Ethics of the West Virginia State Bar, Martin, 419 SE2d4 (W. Va. 1992).
     Respondent was notified on May 12, 1999) that a grievance had been filed by the Grievant. He was further informed that he was to respond to the grievance within 30 days of May 12, 1999. Respondent never responded to the grievance until the December 28, 1999, adjudicator hearing, more than seven months after he was informed of the grievance. - At the hearing, Respondent acknowledged that he did not cooperate with the committee. Based on the foregoing, the panel finds that, despite being advised of Rule 8.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Respondent violated the Rule by not cooperating with the panel investigation. As such, he shall be sanctioned for his misconduct.
     2) Respondent Violated Rule 1.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct makes clear that: a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with requests for information. b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation. Attorney-Client communication serves a variety of purposes. First) it reassures the client that important matters are not being left unresolved. See State v. Martindale, 527 P. 2d 703 (Kan. 1974). Second, it is necessary to prevent prejudice to the client's rights. See In re McCaastand, 605 NE 2d 185 [Ind. 1993). Third, it preserves the trust and confidence that clients normally repose in their lawyers. Failure to keep the client informed may cause the client great inconvenience and unwarranted expense in determining the status of the case. See e.g., People v. Bigg, 616 F2d 133 (Colo. 1980). The lawyer also has a duty to promptly respond to a client's requests for information. See People v. Dandcar, 908 P 2d 1113 (Colo. 1996). The lawyer is generally not permitted to withhold information that affects the legal matter for which the lawyer has been retained if such information may be important to the client. See the Florida Bar v. Bazley) 597 So. 2d 796 (Fla, 1992). The adjudicatory panel finds that Respondent's communications with his client were woefully inadequate. In this regard, since he placed none of his communications in writing, it created unnecessary confusion, mistrust and lack of confidence between him and his client. Moreover) his client was inconvenienced by his lack of communication. For example) Respondent claims he verbally advised the Grievant that she needed an accounting of rents received. The Grievant denied this. Moreover, Respondent claimed he verbally advised the Grievant that the Court proceedings were delayed because there was $500.00 needed for court costs. The Grievant claims she instructed Respondent to utilize $500.00 from rental receipts to pay court costs. At the hearing, a third story emerged when Respondent stated the $500.00 rental receipts were to be applied for his services. Grievant denies such a verbal request was made. Additionally, Respondent failed to have his client sign a retainer) explaining his fee arrangement. While the Grievant paid $2,000.00 to retain the service s of Respondent, Respondent never submitted a bill to the Grievant until the day of the adjudicatory hearing, more than one year after he was retained.* Moreover, even though Respondent was aware of ill feelings between the Grievant and her brother. Respondent accepted money from the brother without notifying his client. Indeed, over the course of one year, the Grievant repeatedly left messages with Respondent's office and he never returned her calls. Based on the foregoing, the panel finds that Respondent related Rule 1.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. As such, he shall be sanctioned for his misconduct.
     B. CONCLUSION The Adjudicatory Panel having found that Respondent related Rule 8.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct imposes sanctions, pursuant to Rule 5.14 and 7.4 of the ABA Standard for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, and admonishes Respondent for his misconduct. The Adjudicatory Panel also finds that Respondent violated Rule 1.4 of die Model Rules of Professional Conduct Sanctions shall be imposed pursuant to Rule 4.4 of the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and Respondent is admonished for his misconduct. In imposing these sanctions, the panel notes that the Grievant suffered little or no actual or potential injury'. Moreover, it is noted that Respondent has not been sanctioned or admonished in over 3 years. These serve as mitigating factors. Notwithstanding, Respondent shall reimburse the V.I. Bar Association $543.00 for the costs associated with the adjudicatory hearing. Additionally, these Findings and Conclusions shall be published in the V.I. Bar Association Newsletter without utilizing the names of the parties. The publication shall serve (1) to educate attorneys of the importance of cooperating with the Ethics Committee; (2) to dissuade other attorneys from engaging in similar conduct and (3) to educate attorneys of the importance of diligently communicating with their clients, including having their clients sign a retainer, regularly billing their client for services performed, returning the client's phone calls within a reasonable time, and keeping their clients apprised of the status of their case.
     *This issue was not raised until December 28, 1999, hearing since Respondent never submitted a bill. To the extent that the Grievant disputes the bill, she can file another grievance or pursue other remedies.

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