|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JULY 2012|
Note: More than 14,000 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.
BRYAN W. GRUETTER
Form B resignation
Effective April 19, 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of Bend lawyer Bryan W. Gruetter. At the time of resignation, the bar was pursuing a disciplinary proceeding in which Gruetter was alleged to have violated RPC 1.3, RPC 1.4(a) and RPC 1.15-1(d) in one matter, and RPC 1.3, RPC 1.4(a), RPC 1.15-1(d) and RPC 1.15-1(e) in a second matter. The bar was also investigating Gruetter’s conduct in more than 20 other matters.
Gruetter was admitted to practice in 1986. His resignation recited that he no longer had possession of client files and records because, effective Feb. 3, 2012, the bar was appointed custodian of his law practice, pursuant to ORS 9.725.
LYNN M. MURPHY
Effective April 11, 2012, a trial panel suspended Portland lawyer Lynn M. Murphy from the practice of law for 270 days for violating RPC 1.16(d) (failing to properly withdraw) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failing to respond in a bar investigation.)
For six months Murphy represented a client in a dissolution of marriage proceeding. One issue involved the creation and funding of an educational trust by the client’s former husband for the benefit of the couple’s child. When the client terminated Murphy, a hearing on the merits was scheduled for the following month.
Murphy did not provide the client with her paper file until shortly before the hearing and only after the client filed a complaint with the bar. The file Murphy provided was not complete and she continued to provide additional materials to the client over the following weeks.
Murphy, a necessary witness at the hearing, promised the client that she would appear and testify. She did not. Without Murphy’s testimony, it was impossible for the client to prevail. After her client complained to the bar, Murphy knowingly failed to respond to the bar’s inquiries.
In imposing a 270-day suspension, the trial panel found two aggravating circumstances (prior record of discipline and pattern of misconduct) and no mitigating circumstances.
WILLIAM N. LATER
Form B resignation
Effective April 19, 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the Form B resignation of Tigard lawyer William N. Later. At the time of resignation, the bar was pursuing a disciplinary proceeding in which Later was alleged to have violated RPC 1.3 (neglect); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed or respond to reasonable requests for information); RPC 1.5(a) (illegal or clearly excessive fee or expense); RPC 1.15-1(c) (failure to deposit and maintain client funds in trust until earned or expenses incurred); and RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take steps to protect a client’s interests upon withdrawal). The bar was also investigating Later’s handling of funds deposited in his lawyer trust account.
Later was admitted to practice in 1989. His resignation recited that he had not been actively engaged in the practice of law in the state of Oregon at the time of his resignation and had no active clients, cases or files. All former client files have been delivered to the custody of the Oregon State Bar.
J. STEFAN GONZALEZ
On April 27, 2012, the disciplinary board approved a stipulation suspending Salem lawyer J. Stefan Gonzalez from the practice of law for 6 months for violating RPC 1.3 (neglect), RPC 1.4(a) (failing to communicate), RPC 1.15-1(d) (failing to promptly deliver client property) and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (knowingly failing to cooperate in a bar investigation).
In September 2009, Gonzalez undertook to represent a client in a workers’ compensation claim. Between October 2009 and April 2010, Gonzalez failed to pursue the client’s legal matter and failed to respond to the client’s inquiries. In February 2011, the client requested his file from Gonzalez. Gonzalez failed to promptly deliver the file to the client. When the client complained to the bar, Gonzalez knowingly failed to respond to the bar’s inquiries.
At the time the stipulation was approved, Gonzalez was already suspended from the practice of law as a result of a prior disciplinary sanction. Gonzalez will need to apply under and comply with BR 8.1 (formal reinstatement) when he seeks reinstatement to active membership.
JOHN P. ECKREM
90-day stayed suspension
Effective April 28, 2012, a trial panel suspended Medford lawyer John P. Eckrem for 90 days for violating RPC 1.15-1(c) (failing to deposit client funds in trust). The suspension is stayed in whole if Eckrem successfully completes probation within 180 days.
Eckrem was retained by a client in a criminal matter. A few months later, the client was charged with criminal conduct arising from a second incident. Shortly after that, the client was indicted on charges arising from a third incident.
The client paid a $3,500 flat fee for representation in the second and third criminal matters. There was no written fee agreement deeming the flat fee nonrefundable and earned upon receipt. Eckrem failed to deposit the funds into his lawyer trust account.
The trial panel dismissed charges that Eckrem violated RPC 1.4(b) and RPC 8.4(a)(3) by failing to tell the client that he was going to be suspended from the practice of law for 60 days during the course of the representation for violating a number of disciplinary rules in a prior disciplinary proceeding. The trial panel also dismissed charges that, during the 60-day suspension, Eckrem engaged in the unlawful practice of law.
Effective May 1, 2012, a trial panel of the disciplinary board dismissed a formal complaint alleging that a lawyer violated RPC 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of law or fact to a tribunal); RPC 3.3(d) (failing to disclose material facts in an ex parte communication with a judge); RPC 8.4(a)(3) (conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation); and RPC 8.4(a)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
The lawyer was retained by a client who was seeking to recover certain inventory from persons who had managed the client’s business. The lawyer began to prepare a suit for declaratory relief regarding ownership of the inventory. The bar alleged that, when contacted by counsel for the managers, the lawyer falsely represented that he would not be seeking from the court any interim order or immediate relief giving his client authority to take possession of the inventory prior to a show cause hearing. In fact, the lawyer thereafter filed his client’s lawsuit and obtained such an ex parte order. However, the trial panel concluded that the lawyer’s representation to opposing counsel was true at the time he made it; only afterward did the lawyer’s client change his mind and direct the lawyer to seek an ex parte order. The panel also concluded that the lawyer had no obligation to inform the opposing party of his client’s change in direction.
The bar also alleged that the lawyer made misrepresentations to the judge in his ex parte pleadings about the defendants’ position in the dispute. However, the trial panel concluded that the bar did not prove this allegation by clear and convincing evidence.
Effective May 31, 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court approved a stipulation for discipline suspending Portland lawyer Marsha Morasch for two years for violations of RPC 1.3 (neglect); RPC 1.4(a) & (b) (inadequate communications with client); RPC 1.5(a) (excessive fee); RPC 1.15-1(a) & (c) (failure to hold client funds in trust and keep complete records); RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to promptly deliver funds or property or render an accounting), RPC 1.16(a)(2) (failure to withdraw when impaired); RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take steps, upon termination, to protect a client’s interests); RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to a disciplinary authority); RPC 8.4(a)(3) (conduct involving misrepresentation); and RPC 8.4(a)(4) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).
Morasch’s violations arose in connection with 10 separate client matters, all of which involved domestic relations proceedings. The stipulation recited that, due in large part to Morasch’s alcohol abuse between April 2009 and January 2011, as well as physical injuries attributable thereto, her ability to represent her clients was materially impaired, resulting in lapses in communication, lapses in accounting and lapses in substantive work on her clients’ matters during this time. Morasch also failed to respond to a number of requests for information from the bar.
Morasch’s conduct was aggravated by her prior discipline, a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses and substantial experience in the practice of law. She was admitted to practice in Oregon in 1990. Morasch’s conduct was mitigated by: the absence of a dishonest motive; personal or emotional problems; her chemical dependency; and remorse.
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