|Oregon State Bar Bulletin FEBRUARY/MARCH 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.
PATRICK D. ANGEL
Effective Dec. 30, 2008, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Portland attorney Patrick D. Angel for violations of RPC 1.5(a) (collecting a clearly excessive fee), RPC 1.15-1(c) (failure to maintain client funds in trust), RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to account for client funds) and RPC 1.16(d) (failure to refund advance payment of fees or expenses upon withdrawal from representation).
In undertaking to represent a client on an employment dispute, Angel and his client signed a contingent fee agreement, pursuant to which the client agreed to pay a percentage of any recovery as an attorney fee. If no recovery were achieved, the client would owe no attorney fee, but would be liable for actual expenses Angel incurred. Pursuant to the fee agreement, the client deposited a $1,000 initial retainer, to be used as necessary at Angel’s discretion. Believing that the $1,000 retainer was a flat fee earned upon receipt, Angel deposited it directly into his general account, rather than into his lawyer trust account.
Over the next 16 months, Angel performed substantial legal work on the client’s case. Before any recovery had been achieved, Angel accepted a new job and notified his client that he was withdrawing from the case. The client requested a refund of any unused portion of the $1,000 retainer and an accounting of the costs Angel incurred on his behalf. Although Angel promptly informed his client that no funds remained, he did not provide any accounting until after the client made a complaint to the bar. Angel eventually provided a narrative description of miscellaneous costs and a summary of legal work he had performed, and indicated that he had charged his client $175 per hour for the work. Angel did not provide an accounting that indicated his receipt, deposit and disbursement of his client’s $1,000 retainer. Eventually, Angel returned the full $1,000 to his client, despite the fact that he had paid a court filing fee.
With respect to sanction, the bar and Angel noted that Angel’s misconduct arose from a single error (failing to realize that the retainer constituted an advance of client property, rather than a non-refundable fee earned upon receipt). The stipulation also cited significant mitigating circumstances, including the absence of a dishonest or selfish motive and inexperience in the practice of law.
Angel has no prior record of discipline.
Effective Dec. 16, 2008, a trial panel of the disciplinary board reprimanded Roseburg lawyer James Arneson for violations of RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to promptly notify a client or third person that the lawyer has received property in which the client or third person has an interest) and RPC 1.15-1(e) (failure to keep disputed property separate until the dispute is resolved).
Arneson represented a domestic relations client who had judgment liens against her former spouse. The former spouse disputed the amount necessary to satisfy one of the liens. The dispute over the debt had to be resolved before proceeds from the sale of real property owned by the former spouse could be fully disbursed. Without Arneson’s involvement, the parties agreed that when the sale closed the title company was to send the disputed amount to Arneson for deposit into his trust account until the dispute was resolved. The title company did so.
Upon receipt of the funds, Arneson did not notify the former spouse as required by RPC 1.15-1(d). In addition, Arneson did not keep the funds in trust, but disbursed them to his client in violation of RPC 1.15-1(e). However, the trial panel found that these were negligent, rather than intentional, violations. Arneson had not been aware of the agreement that he was to hold the funds in trust until the dispute was resolved.
The panel also ordered Arneson to redeposit the disputed funds into his trust account until a final order resolved the dispute.
Arneson had no prior disciplinary history.
VINCENT J. BERNABEI
Effective Jan. 5, 2009, a trial panel of the disciplinary board publicly reprimanded Portland attorney Vincent J. Bernabei for violation of ORS 9.527(2) (conviction of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude).
On Aug. 2, 2007, after viewing pornography on his office computer, Bernabei drove around the parking lot of Washington Square Shopping Mall while masturbating. He was observed by an employee of one of the stores in the mall. Bernabei was arrested, and on Oct. 16, 2007, pled guilty to public indecency, a Class A misdemeanor.
In determining an appropriate sanction, the trial panel took into consideration Bernabei’s sincere and active participation in court-imposed and voluntary treatment programs, his remorse and his cooperation during the disciplinary and criminal proceedings. The trial panel also noted that Bernabei’s conduct did not affect his legal practice, he acknowledged the wrongful nature of his conduct, and he was making focused efforts to maintain control and continue treatment.
Bernabei has no prior disciplinary history.
SUSAN FORD BURNS
On Dec. 7, 2008, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Portland lawyer Susan Ford Burns for violations of RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter), RPC 1.4(a) (failure to promptly reply to a client’s reasonable requests for information) and RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take reasonably practicable steps to protect a client upon termination of employment).
Burns undertook to represent a client facing a home foreclosure who believed that the lender had not properly accounted for payments made on the mortgage. After Burns performed some preliminary work toward filing a civil complaint against the lender, the client elected to pursue refinancing of the mortgage. Over the following year, Burns failed to take any further action to pursue the client’s legal matter, such as seeking an accounting directly from the lender, and she failed to respond to the client’s repeated requests for information about the status of the matter. Although Burns eventually informed her client that she would take no further action in the matter, Burns failed to refund the unearned funds advanced by the client for several months thereafter.
Burns had no prior disciplinary record.
BENJAMIN M. KARLIN
Effective Dec. 29, 2008, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation for discipline reprimanding Milwaukie attorney Benjamin M. Karlin for his violation of RPC 3.4(c) (knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal).
In 2004, a judgment was entered in circuit court which required Karlin to pay one-half of the uninsured medical and dental expenses of his minor children. The judgment also required Karlin to provide proof of a life insurance policy in which the children were named as beneficiaries.
In July 2008, Karlin was found in willful contempt for failing to pay anything toward the unreimbursed medical expenses of his children and for failing to sign appropriate releases to allow Karlin’s former wife to verify that the children were appropriately listed as beneficiaries under the accused’s life insurance policy.
Although Karlin had substantial experience in the practice of law and had previously received a reprimand for unrelated violations, the stipulation recited a number of mitigating factors, including the absence of a dishonest motive, a cooperative attitude toward the disciplinary proceedings, the imposition of other penalties and sanctions, and remorse.
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: Michael John Estok, Carolyn Hyun-Kyung Kim, Elizabeth Kay Rhode, Shannon Leigh Tissot and Steven Erik Turner.
Notice of Reinstatement Application
The following attorneys have filed an application for reinstatement as an active member of the Oregon State Bar pursuant to Rule of Procedure (BR) 8.1:
Lawrence Lee Epstein, OSB #790386. Portland, was suspended for one year, effective Dec. 5, 2007. In re Epstein, S056473 (2008). He is currently employed as a marketing director for Welkin Engineering in Tigard. If reinstated, Epstein intends to resume his land use and administrative law practice in the Portland area.
Steven Groh, OSB #794683, Selma, voluntarily resigned in 1991 from the OSB because he was living and working in Texas, where he had been admitted to practice in 1976. From 1988 to 2007, he served as a consular officer with the U.S. Foreign Services. Groh recently retired from that position and returned to Oregon, where he plans to open a part-time law practice in Southern Oregon.
Steven Novick, OSB #955353, Portland, transferred to inactive status in 2002. (He was previously admitted to the New York and California bars.) Since 2002, Novick has held a number of policy, legislative and political positions. Following reinstatement, he plans to return to the private practice of law.
The Rules of Procedure require the Board of Governors to conduct an investigation of BR 8.1 reinstatement applications to determine whether applicants possess the good moral character and general fitness to practice law, and that the resumption of the practice of law in this state by these applicants will not be detrimental to the administration of justice or the public interest. Any person with information relevant to these applications is asked to contact promptly the Regulatory Services Division at the Oregon State Bar, P.O. Box 231935, Tigard, OR 97281-1935, (503) 620-0222, or (800) 452-8260, ext. 343.