Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST 2003

Discipline

Note:About 12,000 persons are eligible to practice law in Oregon. Some of them share the same name or similar names. All discipline reports should be read carefully for names, addresses and bar numbers.

WILLIAM J. HEDGES
OSB #81258
Oregon City
Public reprimand
On June 13, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Oregon City lawyer William J. Hedges for violation of DR 2-110(A)(2), improper withdrawal.

Hedges failed to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to his client who was asserting a personal injury claim. Immediately before his client’s deposition was to begin, Hedges decided to withdraw and notified his client by telephone that he would not be appearing. Opposing counsel agreed to reschedule the deposition.

Hedges delayed filing a notice or motion to withdraw with the court. Shortly after he notified the client that he would be withdrawing, opposing counsel served an offer of compromise on Hedges. Hedges failed to provide his client with a copy of the offer or otherwise notify her of the offer or the consequences if she failed to do better at trial. He also failed to provide his client with a copy of her file or to notify her that she was required to submit a pre-hearing statement to the arbitrator.

The client’s deposition was rescheduled to a later date. The client appeared without counsel and at that time learned about the offer of compromise. The client settled her claim for an amount less than the offer of compromise.

Hedges was admitted to practice in 1981. He had a prior record of formal discipline.

LAUREN J. PAULSON
OSB #73232
Aloha
Public reprimand
On June 5, 2003, the Oregon Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Aloha lawyer, Lauren J. Paulson for violation of DR 2-106(A) (charging or collecting a clearly excessive fee).

Paulson billed a client for time he spent responding to a complaint the client filed with the bar after their professional relationship had ended. The court concluded that this charge was clearly excessive in that it was charged for time spent exclusively in pursuit of Paulson’s own interests. In arriving at a sanction, the court determined that Paulson acted knowingly and had substantial experience in the legal profession, but had no prior disciplinary record and was cooperative with the bar’s disciplinary counsel’s office.

Paulson sought reconsideration of the decision, which was denied by the court on July 29, 2003.

DAWNA SCOTT
OSB #97393
Lake Oswego
30-day suspension
Effective June 16, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline suspending Lake Oswego lawyer Dawna Scott from the practice of law for 30 days for violating DR 1-103(C) (failure to cooperate in a bar investigation), DR 9-101(A) (failure to maintain client funds in trust), DR 9-101(C)(3) (failure to account for client funds or property) and DR 9-101(C)(4)(failure to promptly return client funds or property).

Scott received a $1,500 retainer to represent a client in a possible claim against a recovery treatment center. Although Scott deposited the retainer in her lawyer trust account, she periodically withdrew funds from trust for payment of fees in amounts greater than warranted by her billings or invoices, thereby failing to properly maintain client funds in trust.

Thereafter, the client terminated Scott’s services and demanded an itemized statement for services rendered, the return of her complete file and a refund of any unearned retainer. Scott did not refund any portion of the retainer and did not return the client’s file prior to the client’s new attorney filing a complaint with the bar. Scott also did not maintain complete records of the client’s retainer or the time she spent on the case and could not locate a ledger card for the client’s retainer.

Scott did not respond to inquiries from the bar or comply with a request for documentation from the local professional responsibility committee, requiring the investigator to issue a subpoena to obtain Scott’s account records.

CHRISTOPHER D. WRIGHT
OSB #92563
Portland
Public reprimand
By order dated June 25, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline whereby Christopher Wright was publicly reprimanded for violation of DR 5-101(A) (lawyer’s self-interest conflict) and DR 5-104(A) (doing business with a client).

Wright represented a client who was the conservator of her mother’s estate. During the course of this representation, the estate invested $10,000 in a corporation in which Wright held a 50 percent interest. Wright arranged for and documented this investment without first having obtained his client’s consent after full disclosure. Wright then continued to represent the estate after his corporation became a debtor of the estate without the conservator’s consent after full disclosure.

Wright and the bar stipulated that Wright was relatively inexperienced in the practice of law at the time of the conduct, had no prior disciplinary record and fully cooperated with the disciplinary proceeding.

RUSSELL E. VAUSE
OSB #79429
San Diego, Calif.
Public reprimand
On July 15, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline publicly reprimanding Russell E. Vause, formerly of Lake Oswego, for violation of DR 6-101(B) (neglect) and DR 9-101(C)(4) (failure to promptly deliver client property).

A client retained Vause to pursue a claim for personal injury sustained in March 1999. In March 2001, he filed a civil complaint. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which Vause informed his client would likely be granted. Nevertheless, he filed a response and appeared for the hearing on the motion. In February 2002, the court granted the motion and entered judgment against Vause’s client, dismissing the claim and awarding the defendant his costs and disbursements.

Vause closed his practice in Oregon and moved to California in early May 2002. Prior to leaving Oregon, he failed to notify his client that the court had granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed her claim; failed to notify his client that a judgment had been entered against her for the defendant’s costs; failed to provide his client with a copy of the court’s decision, the defendant’s cost bill and judgment and failed to explain appellate remedies to his client. Before and after Vause moved to California, his client attempted to communicate with him, but he failed to respond.

In March 2002, Vause’s client filed a complaint with the bar and thereafter retained another lawyer to represent her interests. The new lawyer requested that Vause deliver a copy of the client’s file, but Vause failed to do so until January 2003.

Vause was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1979. He had no prior record of formal discipline.

CYNTHIA KAY MCNEFF
OSB #98164
Portland
60-day suspension
Pursuant to a stipulation for discipline approved by the disciplinary board on July 15, 2003, Portland lawyer Cynthia Kay McNeff was suspended for 60 days for violation of DR 1-102(A)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), DR 5-101(A) (self-interest conflict), DR 7-104(A)(1) (contact with a represented party) and DR 7-110(B) (ex parte communications with the court). McNeff’s suspension was effective Aug. 1, 2003.

In a domestic relations matter McNeff began to represent a client with whom McNeff had a pre-existing romantic relationship, including co-habitation. Thereafter, during the course of representation, McNeff and the client began a demolition business venture. By continuing to represent the client while engaging in a business and a romantic relationship with him, McNeff’s professional judgment on behalf of the client was, or reasonably may have been, affected by her own financial, business or personal interests. McNeff did not obtain the client’s informed consent to the continued representation.

Later in the representation, McNeff obtained an order to show cause relating to the status quo on parenting time. Erroneously believing that the opposing party had failed to answer the show cause within the proscribed period, McNeff appeared before the court and obtained a temporary restraining order without providing opposing counsel with notice of the appearance. McNeff also served the opposing party with a notice of deposition when her counsel had not given McNeff permission to communicate with his client.

McNeff was advised that opposing counsel intended to call her as a witness at trial. Nevertheless, McNeff appeared as trial counsel for her client. The court inquired how McNeff could represent her client while she was his business partner and domestic associate. After consultation with counsel and representatives of the bar, McNeff moved to withdraw as counsel for her client. The court granted the motion and reset the case.

In arriving at a sanction, the stipulation recited the absence of a prior disciplinary record, absence of a dishonest or selfish motive and inexperience in the practice of law.

FRANK C. ROBERTS
OSB #87332
Gold Beach
60-day suspension
Effective Sept. 20, 2003, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended Gold Beach attorney Frank C. Roberts for 60 days for violation of DR 1-102(A)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) and DR 6-101(A) (failure to provide competent representation).

Roberts represented a conservator. Over several years, he filed motions to approve the conservator’s annual accountings. Among other things, Roberts failed to review the details of the accountings, failed to make inquiry to determine if the accountings were supported by documentation and failed to determine if the conservator was performing her fiduciary duties. Roberts asked the court to waive the filing of the receipts and vouchers. He did not inform the court that he had made no inquiry concerning the accountings or that he took no responsibility for doing so. Later investigation revealed that the conservator was not adequately performing her fiduciary duties and that there had been a substantial loss of conservatorship property.

Roberts was admitted to practice in 1987. He had no prior record of formal discipline.

WARREN JOHN WEST
OSB #73322
Bend
Public reprimand
Pursuant to a stipulation for discipline approved by the disciplinary board on July 15, 2003, Bend lawyer Warren J. West was reprimanded for violating DR 5-101(A)(1) (lawyer’s self-interest conflict).

The charge arose out of West’s representation of a client whose daughter had been fatally injured in a single-car accident that occurred on a county road when the car in which she was a passenger failed to negotiate a sharp turn near the intersection of the county road and a state highway. West filed a tort claim notice with the county, but did not thoroughly investigate whether the state had any responsibility for the road design, maintenance, or signage at the accident site. Accordingly, West did not file a tort claim notice with the state and did no further investigation into the state’s possible liability.

After West filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the county, he received actual knowledge that the state, rather than the county, was responsible for installing and maintaining proper signage on the road near the accident site accident. However, West did not file a tort claim notice with the state at that time. Instead, he filed an amended complaint, which added the state as a defendant in the litigation. The amended complaint was not filed within the statutory time limit for filing a tort claim notice to the state unless the 'discovery rule' applied or the state had had actual notice of the claim.

West’s failure to file a timely tort claim notice with the state may have constituted legal malpractice that would bar his client from asserting any claim against the state. Once West learned of his possible legal malpractice, the exercise of his professional judgment on behalf of his client was or reasonably may have been affected by his own financial, business, or personal interests in avoiding a legal malpractice claim. West continued to represent his client after he learned of his possible legal malpractice without first obtaining her consent after full disclosure. Ultimately, the client voluntarily dismissed the litigation with prejudice before the issue of the timeliness of the tort claim notice to the state was resolved by the court.

In determining the appropriate sanction, the disciplinary board considered that West had a prior disciplinary offense substantial experience in the practice of law. The disciplinary board also considered that West made full and free disclosure to the bar, that he is of good character and reputation, and that the disciplinary proceedings had been delayed.

STEVEN H. GORHAM
OSB #75136
Salem
Public reprimand
On Aug. 7, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Salem lawyer Steven H. Gorham for violating DR 5-101(A) (lawyer self-interest conflict of interest), DR 6-101(B) (neglect of a legal matter), and DR 7-101(A)(1) (intentionally failing to pursue client’s lawful objective).

In one matter, Gorham was appointed to represent a client in a petition for post conviction relief filed in Marion County. During the six months following his appointment, Gorham failed to investigate or review the client’s legal matter and failed to respond to the client’s letter inquiring about the status of his legal matter. Shortly after Gorham was appointed, the client was transferred from a prison in Marion County to a prison in Malheur County. In response to Gorham’s inquiry, the client instructed Gorham not to transfer the matter from Marion County. Contrary to the client’s instructions, Gorham filed a motion to change venue from Marion County.

In another matter, Gorham was appointed to represent a client in a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Gorham failed to timely file a response to the State’s motion to dismiss. The court thereafter signed a conditional judgment of dismissal. For a number of months after the judgment of dismissal was signed, Gorham failed to respond to letters and telephone calls from his client and telephone calls from his client’s family members inquiring about the status of the matter. Ultimately, Gorham filed a response to the motion to dismiss, albeit late, and the client’s petition was reinstated.

In a third matter, Gorham was appointed to represent a client in appealing the denial of a petition for habeas corpus. Gorham obtained a number of extensions in which to file a brief. The court granted the last request for an extension and informed Gorham that no further extension would be granted. Because of a calendaring error, Gorham failed to timely file the brief and the court thereafter dismissed the appeal. After the court dismiss the appeal, Gorham informed his client about the dismissal, but failed to explain to the client the potential adverse impact on the client of continuing to have Gorham represent him and failed to recommend that the client seek independent legal advice.

The court eventually reinstated the appeal and gave Gorham a few weeks in which to file a brief. Gorham did not file a brief by the due date, but instead requested another extension. The court dismissed the appeal because a brief had not been filed. Gorham continued to represent the client after the court dismissed the appeal without explaining to the client the potential adverse impact on the client of continuing to have Gorham represent him and without recommending that the client seek independent legal advice.

ANITA C. SMITH
OSB #89359
Salem
Public reprimand
On July 15, 2003, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline in which Salem attorney Anita Smith was reprimanded for violating DR 5-101(A) (personal interest conflict) and DR 6-101(B) (neglect of a legal matter) in representing the same client in two separate cases.

Smith was hired for representation in connection with a wrongful termination claim. Shortly thereafter, the client was denied unemployment benefits and Smith agreed to file an appeal of that denial. However, Smith misread the deadline on the notice and miscalendared the date, resulting in the request being denied as untimely.

Upon discovering her error, Smith met with the client to explain what had occurred, advised him to seek other counsel, and notified the client that she would be notifying her malpractice carrier. However, Smith did not provide this information in writing, nor receive the client’s informed consent before she continued to represent him in his employment matter.

In January 2001, the client’s ex-wife served him with a motion for contempt. Smith filed a response and counterclaims, and the case went to hearing. The court verbally found in favor of Smith’s client. Smith received a letter decision in mid-March 2001 that provided that she was to prepare the written order for the court’s signature. The court’s letter did not address all of the issues, so Smith needed clarification before she could draft the order. However, the Accused did not complete the order prior to being terminated by the client in February 2002.

The stipulation recited that Smith was admonished in 1995 for a personal interest conflict and had substantial experience in the practice of law. Smith did not act with a dishonest or selfish motive and fully cooperated in the bar proceedings.


return to top
return to Table of Contents