|Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JULY 2007|
Note: More than 13,000 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.
IAIN E. LEVIE
On March 8, 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court filed an opinion suspending Iain Levie from the practice of law for one year for violating: DR 1-102(A)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); DR 7-102(A)(5) (knowingly making false statements of law or fact); DR 7-106(A) (disregarding ruling of a tribunal); DR 1-102(A)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); DR 5-101(A)(1) (self interest conflict) and DR 9-101(A) (trust account violations). The suspension was effective May 7, 2007.
Levie was an associate in a Portland law firm when he undertook to represent a friend and former business partner ("the client") in a dispute arising out of the client’s contract to purchase a number of valuable bronze sculptures. When Levie became involved, the client had taken delivery of most of the bronzes but had not paid for them. Levie knew that his firm would be concerned about the client’s ability to pay his legal bill; he therefore arranged that the firm take possession of three of the bronzes as security for the client’s fees. The firm filed a UCC-1 form thereby establishing the firm’s place in line of priority with respect to those three bronzes.
Litigation ensued and the circuit court enjoined the client from selling or encumbering the three bronzes; the court also ordered the client to advise the opposing party of these bronzes’ location and to state whether they had been sold or encumbered. Thereafter, Levie participated in negotiating a settlement agreement that required the client to deliver all of the bronzes to an art gallery for sale; the agreement also warranted that the bronzes were free from encumbrances other than those specifically identified by the settlement agreement. The agreement did not disclose the firm’s perfected security interest in the bronzes held in its office. The client subsequently delivered all of the bronzes, except the three in Levie’s office, to an art gallery.
When opposing counsel, Smith, became concerned that the client had not complied with the settlement agreement, Levie told Smith that "the bronzes are presently with the (gallery)… It is where all the bronzes are currently consigned." Levie’s statement was false; three of the bronzes remained at Levie’s office.
The arbitrator issued an order requiring the client to document all encumbrances and deliver the bronzes to an art gallery within a specified time. Smith again inquired of Levie as to any possible security interests on the bronzes. Levie replied that he was unaware of any and that the bronzes had already been delivered to the gallery. Smith discovered these statements were untrue and filed a contempt motion asking that the client be sanctioned. In response, Levie admitted that several bronzes were at his office, but alleged that Smith knew about and agreed to that location. That representation was untrue. Smith advised Levie that his statement was false, and warned him not to repeat it. Nevertheless, Levie filed a declaration repeating that assertion.
The state supreme court found that Levie made several misrepresentations about the location of the three bronzes and the firm’s security interest to both the arbitrator and Smith; that he had disregarded a ruling of a tribunal by failing to deliver all of the bronzes to a mutually acceptable art gallery for sale; that he had engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by failing to comply with the arbitrator’s order and that he continued to represent the client even after his interest (in maintaining a security interest on the three bronzes) became adverse to his client’s.
Levie had no prior disciplinary record at the time of his misconduct. He was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1991.
C. DAVID HALL
On May 17, 2007, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Portland lawyer C. David Hall for violating DR 1-102(A)(3) and RPC 8.4(a)(3) (misrepresentation).
Hall represented a client involved in a dispute over the repayment of a loan used to finance a houseboat. Hall’s client and the opposing party entered into a settlement agreement that required each party to place in trust with his lawyer funds to pay a share of the fees required to hire an accountant to resolve the dispute. The agreement also called for each party to deliver to their lawyer fully executed documents that would effectuate a transfer of the houseboat to the other party in the event of a failure to pay any amount the accountant determined to be owed. The clients were each required to have the funds and documents in trust with their lawyers prior to moving forward with the agreement.
Hall’s client failed to place the required funds and documents into trust. Hall permitted the opposing party to move forward with the agreement knowing that the opposing party relied on Hall having in trust the necessary funds and documents. Hall also undertook to hire an accountant on behalf of the parties although he knew his client’s share of the accountant’s fees was not in trust and that the accountant relied on Hall’s having in trust the necessary share of fees. Hall did not disclose that the necessary items were never placed in trust until required to do so at a court proceeding following the opposing party’s effort to enforce the settlement. Although the client subsequently executed the necessary documents, the client never paid his share of the accountant’s fees. The stipulation noted that Hall did not have a selfish or dishonest motive. He had repeatedly urged his client to deposit the necessary items in trust and believed his client would do so.
WILLIAM N. KENT
Form B resignation
Effective May 22, 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of former Eugene attorney, William Kent. At the time of his resignation, there were five investigations pending against Kent with varying allegations, including RPC 1.3 (neglect), RPC 1.4(a) and (b) (failure to adequately communicate with a client) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to a disciplinary authority). Also pending was a formal proceeding alleging violations of DR 1-102(A)(2) (criminal conduct reflecting adversely on honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law); DR 1-102(A)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); DR 9-101(A) and RPC 1.15-1(c) (failure to deposit or maintain client funds in a lawyer trust account); DR 9-101(C)(3) and RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to account for client funds or property); DR 9-101(C)(4) and RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to promptly deliver to a client funds or property to which the client is entitled).
Kent was admitted to practice in 1978. The resignation recites that Eugene attorney John Billington is the contact for Kent’s client files.
TODD W. WETSEL
Effective June 9, 2007, a trial panel of the disciplinary board suspended Portland attorney Todd W. Wetsel for 18 months after finding that he violated multiple disciplinary rules in his representation of two clients.
In the first client matter, Wetsel undertook to represent a Washington resident in a custody modification matter. Even though the child had not been a resident of Oregon for six months prior to the filing of the petition, Wetsel filed the custody petition in Oregon. He accepted a $2,500 retainer from his client but did not deposit the retainer into his trust account. Thereafter, Wetsel failed to acquiesce in opposing counsel’s request that he dismiss the Oregon action and then failed to concede or respond to a motion to dismiss. During the same time, the mother of the client’s child filed a paternity and custody proceeding in the State of Hawaii. Although Wetsel promised his client he would attend to this matter as well, he did not, with the result that custody was awarded to mother. The client terminated Wetsel’s employment and retained new counsel who asked Wetsel for the client’s file. Wetsel did not promptly return the file or the client’s retainer, although he ultimately did. For this conduct, the trial panel found that Wetsel had violated DR 6-101(A) and RPC 1.1 (lack of competence); DR 9-101(A) (failure to deposit client funds into trust); RPC 1.15-1(d) (failing to promptly return client property or funds) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to the bar).
Wetsel also represented a drywall installation business in its collection matters and construction lien foreclosures. The trial panel found that in five cases for this client, Wetsel neglected legal matters entrusted to him, failed to adequately communicate with his client about the status of his cases, made affirmative misrepresentations to the client about the status of his cases, and failed to disclose in one case that the client’s collection action had been dismissed and a judgment had been entered against it. In all of the cases, Wetsel stopped communicating with his client and did not respond to the bar’s inquiries about his conduct. The trial panel found that he had violated DR 6-101(B) and RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to adequately communicate with a client); RPC 1.7(a)(2) (lawyer’s self-interest conflict); RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to properly return client property); RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to the bar) and RPC 8.4(a)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation).
After considering the injury to the affected clients and a number of aggravating factors, along with the mitigating factor of personal problems, the trial panel determined that an 18-month suspension was the appropriate sanction. Wetsel did not appeal the decision.
RUSSELL D. BEVANS
Pursuant to a stipulation for discipline approved by the disciplinary board on June 14, 2007, Eugene lawyer Russell D. Bevans was suspended from the practice of law for 60 days, effective June 15, 2007, for violation of RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed) and RPC 1.4(b) (failure to communicate with client sufficiently to allow client to make informed decisions).
Bevans undertook to represent a couple who wished to pursue a claim for compensation from the estate of a deceased relative. In that no probate proceeding had been filed, Bevans agreed to file a probate petition, but failed to do so despite reminders from the clients. When another relative initiated the probate, the clients described the nature of their claim in a letter they provided directly to the petitioner’s lawyer. Thereafter, Bevans failed to perfect his clients’ claim against the estate, did not respond to the initial inquiry from the petitioner’s lawyer about the clients’ interest in pursuing a claim, and failed to advise his clients about the need to file additional claim documents or otherwise inform them about the status of the matter. When the clients’ claim was later disallowed, Bevans failed to timely file a request for summary determination, did not notify his clients of the need to do so, and did not inform them about the status of the claim.
In arriving at the sanction, the stipulation recited as aggravating factors Bevans’ substantial experience in the practice of law, a prior disciplinary record and that his conduct involved multiple disciplinary offenses. In mitigation, the stipulation recited the absence of a dishonest or selfish motive, cooperation with the bar and that the prior disciplinary offense was remote in time. Bevans was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1973.
OSCAR R. NEALY
Form B resignation
Effective June 19, 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of Grants Pass attorney, Oscar Nealy. At the time of his resignation, a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending against Nealy, alleging multiple violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rules of Professional Conduct, including: DR 6-101(B) & RPC 1.3 (neglect); DR 9-101(A) (failure to deposit client funds in trust); RPC 5.3(a) & RPC 5.5(a) (unlawful practice of law); RPC 8.1(a)(1) (failure to cooperate with a disciplinary authority); RPC 8.1(a)(2) (false statement to a disciplinary authority) and RPC 8.4(a)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation).
At the time of Nealy’s resignation, a second formal proceeding had also been authorized alleging violations of DR 9 101(A) and RPC 1.15-1(a) & (c) (failure to deposit or maintain client funds in trust) and also DR 9 101(C)(3) and RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to account for client funds or property). An investigation was also pending whose allegations implicated: RPC 1.2(a) (failure to carry out a contract of employment); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed); RPC 1.4(b) (failure to communicate with client sufficient to allow client to make informed decisions); RPC 1.15-1(d); RPC 1.16(d) (improper withdrawal); RPC 3.3(a) (false statement of law or fact to a tribunal); RPC 8.4(a)(3) and RPC 8.4(a)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
Nealy was admitted to practice in 1968. The court ordered that all Nealy’s client files be delivered to Larry Workman in Medford.