|Oregon State Bar Bulletin AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2006|
Note: Almost ,12,750 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.
ANGELA J. HART
Form B resignation
On July 18, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of former Wilsonville attorney, Angela J. Hart.
At the time of the resignation, a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending against Hart in connection with two litigated cases in which she represented clients against a corporate employer. In the first matter, it was alleged that Hart improperly allowed her client to negotiate a settlement check without first executing the release on which the settlement was conditioned, in violation of DR 1-102(A)(3) (dishonest conduct).
The second matter alleged that Hart failed to communicate or take substantial action on her client’s claim for almost a year (DR 6-101(B)). She then filed a lawsuit without her client’s authority and in direct conflict with her client’s instructions (DR 1-102(A)(3)), with a complaint that contained false representations as to supportable causes of action (DR 1-102(A)(3)). It was alleged that Hart then failed to comply with discovery requests, failed to notify her clients of requests and depositions and failed to appear for multiple depositions in violation of DR 1-102(A)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). When Hart’s client was finally informed of and appeared for deposition, Hart allegedly instructed him to help cover for her failures to comply with discovery requests by lying under oath in his deposition (DR 1-102(A)(3), DR 1-102(A)(4), DR 7-102(A)(7) (counseling or assisting a client in illegal or fraudulent conduct)).
Hart was admitted to practice in 1996. She moved to California in 2005 and reported that she has no active files in Oregon.
MARY A. BETKER
Form B resignation
On July 18, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of Mary A. Betker of Washougal, Washington. Betker filed a resignation in lieu of disbarment in the State of Washington, effective in February 2006. That resignation was predicated on alleged violations of Washington RPC 1.1 (competence), RPC 1.2(a) (requiring a lawyer to abide by a client’s decision regarding a settlement), RPC 1.3 and 1.4 (diligence and communication), RPC 1.5(a) (excessive fee), RPC 1.7(b) (conflict of interest), RPC 3.4(c) (disobeying rules of a tribunal), RPC 5.3(b) and 5.5(b) (failing to supervise a non-lawyer) and RPC 8.4(c) (deceit). Thereafter, Betker submitted her resignation in Oregon. In the resignation, Betker stated that all matters she had handled for Oregon clients had concluded or the files had been turned over to the clients or new counsel.
JOHN M. HEURLIN
Disbarment (reciprocal discipline)
Effective June 28, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court disbarred California attorney John M. Heurlin from the practice of law in Oregon.
This was a reciprocal discipline matter, arising out of Heurlin’s discipline in California. The Supreme Court of California had ordered that Heurlin be suspended from the practice of law for five years, that execution of the suspension be stayed, that Heurlin be placed on probation for five years, and that he comply with probationary conditions including two years actual suspension. The California court also ordered that Heurlin prove his rehabilitation and take the MPRE before being eligible for reinstatement in California.
In connection with the California matter, Heurlin stipulated to three acts of misconduct stemming from a lengthy fee dispute with his former client. Heurlin admitted that he had improperly withheld money from settlement proceeds as "collection costs," an act that amounted to charging an unconscionable fee, and that he had failed to maintain client funds in trust, an act involving moral turpitude. He also admitted that he had filed and pursued an unjust appeal for wrongful motives, and that he had repeatedly made misrepresentations to opposing counsel and to the court. These stipulated acts violated the California equivalents of: Oregon DR 2-106(A) (charging or collecting an illegal or clearly excessive fee); DR 1-102(A)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); DR 7-102(A)(1) (taking legal action merely to harass or maliciously injure another); DR 7-102(A)(2) (knowingly advancing claim or defense unwarranted under existing law); DR 1-102(A)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud or misrepresentation) and DR 9-101(A) (duty to maintain client funds in trust).
Aggravating factors included Heurlin’s previous record of discipline in California. In 1998, he was privately reproved for failing to pay sanctions imposed upon him by the San Diego Superior Court. In 2001, Heurlin was again disciplined in California after he failed to comply with the conditions imposed upon him in connection with the 1998 discipline matter.
Heurlin was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1983. He had no prior record of discipline in Oregon. In disbarring him, the Oregon Supreme Court noted that he had failed to respond to the bar’s notice of discipline in this reciprocal case.
ERIC R. VARGAS
Form B resignation
On July 18, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of Eric R. Vargas of Yakima, Wash. Vargas pled guilty in December 2005 to unlawful possession of a controlled substance in Benton County, Wash., resulting in his interim suspension from the bar in that state and the commencement of a formal disciplinary proceeding there. Thereafter, Vargas submitted his resignation in Oregon. Vargas had no Oregon clients at the time of the resignation.
On May 25, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court dismissed a formal complaint alleging that a lawyer had violated DR 1-102(A)(2) (criminal conduct reflecting adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice) and ORS 9.527(2) (conviction of a felony).
The lawyer was convicted of a felony, hindering prosecution, ORS 162.325. The bar proceeding was premised on the lawyer’s conviction of the crime. The Court of Appeals affirmed the criminal conviction. On May 25, 2006, the state supreme court reversed the judgment of the Oregon Court of Appeals and remanded the criminal case to the circuit court for further proceedings. The supreme court concluded that the lawyer’s acts could not, as a matter of law, constitute the crime of hindering prosecution. The outcome of the criminal case therefore determined the outcome of the bar proceeding.
MICHAEL JAMES WICKS
60-day suspension (reciprocal discipline)
By order dated May 31, 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended Michael James Wicks of Arizona for 60 days pursuant to BR 3.5 (reciprocal discipline). The Arizona Supreme Court had censured Wicks and placed him on probation for a period of one year. Later, for the same conduct, the Washington Supreme Court reprimanded Wicks on reciprocal discipline.
In October 2005, the Arizona court signed an order censuring Wicks for violation of: Ariz. R.S.Ct., Rule 42, ER 1.15 (equivalent to former DR 9-101(A), which requires the deposit of client funds into a lawyer trust account); Ariz. R. S. Ct., Rule 43 (equivalent to former DR 9-101(C)(4), which requires lawyers to maintain complete records of trust account transactions) and Ariz. R. S. Ct. Rule 44 (equivalent of former DR 9-101(A) and DR 9-101(C)(3) and (4), which require the deposit of client funds into trust, the maintenance of complete trust account records, and the prompt refund of client funds as requested). The violations arose from complaints relating to five different client matters in which Wicks displayed a pattern of trust account mismanagement. He did not maintain sufficient records to determine whether he had sufficient trust funds to pay disbursements Wicks made on behalf of clients. Wicks also made disbursements out of his trust accounts when there were not sufficient funds in those accounts to cover the disbursements. On several occasions, Wicks received settlement proceeds and distributed them to the clients at times when the balance in his trust account had fallen below the amount owed to the clients.
Wicks did not file an answer to the BR 3.5 proceedings, and the Oregon Supreme Court ordered that he be suspended from the practice of law in Oregon for 60 days, effective June 30, 2006.