Oregon State Bar Bulletin FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014
Note: More than 14,800 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.
ELLEN J. KRIDER
Prineville Public reprimand
Effective Nov. 25, 2013, the disciplinary board publicly reprimanded Prineville lawyer Ellen J. Krider for violation of RPC 1.7(a)(2) (current client conflict of interest) and RPC 4.3 (dealing with unrepresented persons).
Krider represented the personal representative of a probate estate when she also was a creditor of the estate for prior legal work and there was a significant risk that her status as a creditor would materially limit her representation of the personal representative. Krider did not have her client’s informed consent, confirmed in writing, regarding the conflict of interest.
The heirs to the estate were not represented by counsel. Krider knew or should have known that her interests and the interests of the personal representative were in conflict with, or had a reasonable possibility of being in conflict with, the interests of the heirs, one of whom desired to replace Krider’s client as the personal representative. Krider improperly provided some legal advice to the heirs regarding the estate and the need to loan money to the estate.
Krider had no prior record of discipline.
C. WILLIAM REHM
By order dated Nov. 27, 2013, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended attorney C. William Rehm in a reciprocal discipline matter arising in Washington.
Rehm accepted a $700 advance fee to handle a child support matter in May 2010 but performed no work on the case. Over the next 14 months, Rehm did not respond to his client’s requests for information, for a refund or for an accounting of the $700. In July 2011, the client handled the child support matter pro se. Rehm refunded the fee in November 2011, after the client complained to the Washington State Bar about his conduct.
In reciprocal discipline cases, the court analyzes the attorney’s conduct under Oregon’s rules and statutes. The bar submitted that Rehm’s conduct violated RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter), RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed about status and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information), RPC 1.4(b) (failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions), RPC 1.15-1(d) (failure to deliver client funds) and RPC 1.16(d) (failing to return client property upon termination of representation).
SUSAN FORD BURNS
Effective Dec. 3, 2013, a trial panel suspended Portland lawyer Susan Ford Burns from the practice of law for 210 days for violating the following: RPC 1.3 (neglecting a legal matter); RPC 1.16(d) (failure to take reasonable steps upon termination of employment to protect client); and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (failure to respond to disciplinary authorities).
A client paid Burns a flat fee to assist with the transfer of the ownership of a real property. Burns provided the client with a document and instructions to obtain the necessary signatures and return the document. Burns received the fully executed document from the client but never filed it. Burns subsequently closed her practice without filing the document or notifying the client. After the client complained to the bar, Burns returned the client’s document and refunded the unearned portion of her flat fee. However, Burns did not respond to disciplinary inquiries regarding the client’s complaint.
Burns was previously disciplined for violations of RPC 1.3, RPC 1.16(d), RPC 8.1(a)(2) and others, and was serving a suspension at the time the current disciplinary suspension was imposed.
Effective Dec. 11, 2013, a trial panel of the disciplinary board suspended Grants Pass lawyer Christopher Cauble for 45 days for violation of RPC 1.7(a)(2) (current client conflict of interest) and RPC 1.15-1(a) (duty to safeguard client property). Cauble had no prior record of discipline.
Cauble defended a client against a plaintiff’s claims that the client had negligently, illegally or fraudulently invested funds intended to be used in loans for home construction. On behalf of his client, Cauble sought indemnification from the title company involved in the loan transactions in the event the client was found liable for losses suffered by the plaintiff.
Several additional investors who lost funds that Cauble’s client had invested on their behalf consulted Cauble about the prospect of suing the title company. Cauble represented the additional investors against the title company without securing the informed consent of all his clients regarding the significant risk that his representation of the additional investors would be materially limited by his responsibilities to the first client and vice versa. The panel found that although Cauble limited the scope of his representation to taking action against the title company, that limitation did not obviate the need to obtain informed consent regarding the conflict between the interests of the first client and the additional investors that arose from legitimate claims the additional investors might have had against the first client.
The additional investors advanced funds to pay Cauble’s fees for pursuing their claims against the title company. Relying upon direction from the first client as spokesperson for the additional investors, Cauble used funds advanced by the additional investors to pay past due legal fees owed by the first client. The panel found that Cauble’s personal interests in obtaining fees from the multiparty litigation and getting the first client’s past due fees paid created a significant risk that the representation of the additional investors would be materially limited. The panel also found that although Cauble’s work for the first client was of some value to the additional investors due to common issues, Cauble negligently failed to safeguard the funds advanced by the additional investors when he used those funds to pay the first client’s fees. The panel ordered restitution pro rata to each of the additional investors for their funds used to pay the fees of the first client.
By order dated Dec. 12, 2013, the Oregon Supreme Court suspended attorney Blake Simms for 60 days in a reciprocal discipline matter that arose from discipline imposed by the Supreme Court of Arizona (admonition and one-year probation).
The Arizona disciplinary proceeding involved Simms’ representation of a client in a 2010 wrongful termination action against his former employer. The matter was referred by the court to arbitration, but no arbitrator accepted appointment. Thereafter, Simms did nothing to secure the appointment of another arbitrator for eight months and did not communicate with his client. Upon the eventual appointment of an arbitrator, Simms failed to communicate with his client until shortly before the arbitration hearing. Throughout the representation, Simms failed to consistently provide monthly billings. The client terminated Simms’ representation and requested a copy of his file. Simms did not promptly send the client his file, and when judgment on the arbitration award was entered, did not send a copy of the judgment to his client. Simms sent only part of his file to the client, and when the State Bar of Arizona requested a complete copy of the file, Simms produced a few documents. Despite promising to send the Arizona bar a complete copy of his client file, Simms never did so.
The Oregon Supreme Court found that Sims had violated the following: RPC 1.2(a) (failure to abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of the representation); RPC 1.3 (neglect of a legal matter); RPC 1.4(a) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter); RPC 1.4(b) (failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary for the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation); RPC 1.16(d) (failure to promptly return client property on termination of representation); and RPC 8.1(a)(2) (knowing failure to respond to a demand for information from a disciplinary authority). In arriving at a sanction, the court considered that Simms engaged in a pattern of misconduct that included multiple offenses and that Simms had no prior disciplinary record.
ALAN G. SELIGSON
Effective Dec. 17, 2013, the disciplinary board publicly reprimanded Eugene attorney Alan Seligson for violations of RPC 1.7(a)(2) (personal interest conflict), RPC 1.8(a) (business with a client/acquiring an adverse interest to a client) and RPC 1.16(a)(3) (failing to timely withdraw upon termination) in connection with his representation of a client in a bankruptcy matter.
Seligson was initially retained to advise a divorcing wife on whether she should file bankruptcy, and to advise her regarding her husband’s bankruptcy and its effect on her property, including her home on the couple’s ranch property.
Early in the representation, it was discovered that the second mortgage on the ranch property was not properly secured. The potentially avoidable second mortgage created the possibility of the client having significant equity. Shortly thereafter, the client’s divorce attorney prepared a trust deed for the client’s signature in favor of his law firm and Seligson to secure their attorney fees (the “trust deed”).
Seligson only minimally participated in creation and execution of the trust deed, but had knowledge of the fact that the trust deed had been prepared and executed by his client and he consented to it. He violated RPC 1.8(a) when he did not obtain informed consent in writing from his client with regard to the trust deed.
At approximately the same time that Seligson learned of the avoidable security interest in the ranch property, the trustee also learned this information and filed an adversary proceeding to avoid the second mortgage and Seligson’s interest in the ranch property, among others, and naming Seligson’s client as an adverse party to that proceeding. Seligson thereafter represented both his interest and his client’s interest in the adversary proceeding filed by the trustee, without obtaining written, informed consent from his client in connection with this representation, which violated RPC 1.7(a)(2).
In April 2009, the bankruptcy court issued an order requiring the ranch property to be sold. Following this order, Seligson’s client terminated his representation. However, Seligson did not attempt to withdrawal until February 2010. This delay violated RPC 1.16(a)(3).