|Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2009|
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.
RONALD D. SCHENCK
Effective Dec. 8, 2008, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended attorney Ronald Schenck for one year for violating DR 5-101(A)(1) (self-interest conflict); DR 5-101(B) (preparation of an instrument giving a substantial gift to lawyer’s spouse); DR 5-104(A) (business with a client); DR 5-105(E) (current-client conflict of interest); and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to cooperate in a disciplinary investigation).
Schenck was a long-time friend of two elderly sisters, whom he occasionally assisted with legal matters. The sisters lived together for decades, sharing assets and expenses. In 1997, at a time when he was not representing either of them, Schenck borrowed several thousand dollars from the sisters secured by a trust deed on his real property. In May 2003, Schenck renegotiated this debt, resulting in an unsecured note at a reduced rate. At or about the same time, Schenck represented the sisters in attempting to collect a similar debt from a third party. He eventually advised the sisters to renegotiate the third-party loan on new terms, but continued to insist that it be secured by a trust deed on the debtors’ real property, something he did not insist upon for his own debt to the sisters.
In April 2003, Schenck was asked by the younger sister to draft a will excluding the older sister from her estate. Schenck understood that the sisters were fighting and believed that the younger sister would change her mind, so he drafted wills for each of the sisters which, contrary to the younger sister’s stated request, left their respective estates to each other. Schenck then sent the wills to the sisters and urged them to use the documents to resolve their dispute.
In September or October 2003, the sisters had a serious falling out and the older sister moved out of their shared home. When they divided their assets, the younger sister was given the debt owed by Schenck. Shortly thereafter, Schenck claimed that the younger sister unilaterally released him from the debt, although he did not produce any document evidencing such a release.
In July 2004, the younger sister contacted Schenck about a number of legal concerns, including her desire to make a new will. Despite the fact that Schenck concluded that she had significant problems with her mental ability, he drafted a new will which left the younger sister’s antiques and furniture, one-half of the residue to Schenck’s wife, and all of the residue to Schenck’s wife if the older sister pre-deceased the younger sister.
After the bar made inquires about the foregoing, Schenck refused to provide the bar with information on his debt to the sisters, asserting that the bar lacked jurisdiction.
The court found that Schenck acted knowingly and intentionally and that there was reasonably foreseeable injury to the sisters and actual harm to the legal profession and public by his delay of the disciplinary process. Schenck’s sanction was aggravated by a number of factors, the most significant of which were his extensive disciplinary record and his refusal to cooperate in the bar’s investigation.
M. CHRISTIAN BOTTOMS
On Jan. 16, 2009, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Portland attorney M. Christian Bottoms for violations of RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed); RPC 1.4(b) (failure to provide explanations reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions); and RPC 1.16(a)(2) (failure to withdraw).
Bottoms represented a client in a criminal matter. Bottoms failed to appear for the trial of the client’s case and failed to timely communicate with the client and the court concerning his failure to appear. Bottoms also failed to provide explanations to the client regarding a settlement offer made by the state and other aspects of the representation.
During the representation, Bottoms had a chemical dependency problem. He continued employment as the client’s lawyer and failed to withdraw from the representation even though his condition made it unreasonably difficult for him to carry out the employment effectively.
Bottoms was admitted to practice in 1996. He had no prior record of discipline and presented evidence of treatment for the chemical dependency condition.
On Jan. 28, 2009, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline suspending Medford lawyer Colette Boehmer for 60 days, effective March 1, 2009, for violating RPC 1.15-1(a) (failing to maintain client funds in trust and failing to maintain complete and accurate lawyer trust account records), RPC 8.1(a)(1) (knowingly make a false statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (knowingly fail to respond in a disciplinary matter).
In August 2007, Boehmer wrote a check on her lawyer trust account made payable to herself for payment of earned attorney fees. At the time Boehmer wrote the check, her lawyer trust account did not contain sufficient funds to cover the check. In December 2007, and January 2008, Boehmer withdrew funds from her lawyer trust account for attorney fees incurred by a client. The funds on deposit for that client were insufficient to cover the withdrawals. On all three occasions, Boehmer was unaware that the account contained insufficient funds because she did not maintain adequate or accurate records.
In August 2007, the bar, based upon an overdraft notice from Boehmer’s bank, undertook an investigation into her conduct. During that investigation Boehmer failed to respond to a number of inquiries from the bar, and repeatedly represented to the bar that she had mailed records to the bar when in fact she had not.
JACQUELINE L. KOCH
Form B resignation
On Dec. 11, 2008, the Oregon Supreme Court issued a decision suspending Portland and Vancouver, Wash., lawyer Jacqueline L. Koch for 120 days for violations of RPC 1.3 (neglect); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep clients reasonably informed and failure to respond promptly to reasonable requests for information); RPC 1.15-1(d) and DR 9-101(C)(3) (failure to account for and return client funds) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to comply with requests of the disciplinary authority).
In one matter, Koch failed to comply promptly with the client’s requests for information and for an accounting of a retainer. Koch also failed to return promptly the unearned balance of the retainer to the client, but eventually did so. In another matter, Koch failed to take action related to the preparation of a qualified domestic relations order to effect transfer of certain retirement benefits to her client; failed to keep her client informed about the status of the case; and failed to respond to her client’s requests for information. Koch also failed to prepare an amended judgment to correct certain ambiguities in the form of judgment she had previously submitted to the court and failed to respond to opposing counsel’s communications concerning issues related to her representation. In both matters, Koch failed to comply with the requests of the disciplinary authority.
On Dec. 16, 2008, the court granted the bar’s petition to immediately suspend Koch during the pendency of disciplinary proceedings pursuant to BR 3.1. At the time, formal disciplinary proceedings involving three additional complaints pending against Koch The charges included RPC 1.3 (neglect); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep clients reasonably informed and failure to promptly comply with requests for information); DR 9-101(A), DR 9-101(C)(3) and RPC 1.15-1(a), (c), and (d) (trust account violations); RPC 8.4(a)(3) (dishonesty and misrepresentation); RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to lawful requests of the bar) and other rules. Thereafter, Koch submitted a Form B resignation, which the court accepted on Jan. 29, 2009.
Koch was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1987. Koch represented in her resignation that her files have been placed in the custody of Portland attorney Nicole L. Deering.
JOHN H. OH
Monterey Park, Calif.
Effective Feb. 2, 2009, a trial panel of the disciplinary board imposed an eight-month suspension upon former Portland lawyer John H. Oh for violations of DR 9-101(A), RPC 1.15-1(a) and (c) (trust account violations); RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter); RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take reasonably practicable steps to protect a client upon termination) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to a lawful request for information in a disciplinary matter). The violations arose from Oh’s representation of clients in two immigration matters.
Oh undertook to represent a client in an immigration matter that involved a labor certification and eventual petition for permanent residency status. In that matter, Oh treated funds as earned upon receipt without a clear written agreement with his client that might have permitted him to do so. Oh also failed, despite his client’s repeated inquiries, to take necessary action to seek a labor certification after the client’s employer had completed the recruitment process or to file a petition for adjustment of status. After the client terminated the representation, Oh failed to promptly refund unearned fees and expenses.
In the other matter, Oh undertook to represent a client in an immigration matter that involved a petition for permanent residence as a religious worker for a flat fee with one half of the fee payable in advance and earned on receipt by written agreement with the client. Oh deposited costs advanced by the client into his business account rather than a lawyer trust account. Oh failed to deposit and maintain the second half of the fee in a lawyer trust account until the fee was earned. Oh also failed to complete and file the petition despite the client’s repeated inquiries over an extended period of time.
Oh failed to respond to lawful inquiries about the two client matters from the bar’s disciplinary staff, resulting in the referral of the investigation to a local professional responsibility committee.
Oh had no prior disciplinary history.
The following have applied for admission under the reciprocity, house counsel or law teacher rules. The Board of Bar Examiners requests that members examine this list and bring to the board’s attention in a signed letter any information that might influence the board in considering the moral character of any applicant for admission. Send correspondence to Admissions Director, Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners, P.O. Box 231935, Tigard, OR 97281.
Reciprocity: Thomas Bradley Baisch, Ruben David Cleaveland, Brian Trevor Hodges, Jason Benjamin Joner and John Robert Rizzardi.