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People v. Ritland

Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado

March 24, 2014

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Complainant:
v.
STEPHANIE A. RITLAND, Respondent:

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE. RALPH A. CANTAFIO, HEARING BOARD MEMBER, HENRY C. FREY, HEARING BOARD MEMBER.

OPINION

Page 915

OPINION AND DECISION IMPOSING SANCTIONS PURSUANT TO C.R.C.P. 251.19(b)

On January 28, 2014, a Hearing Board composed of Ralph A. Cantafio and Henry C. Frey, members of the bar, and William R. Lucero, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge (" the PDJ" ), held a hearing pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.18. Katrin Miller Rothgery appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (" the People" ), and Stephanie A. Ritland (" Respondent" ) appeared with her counsel, Alexander R. Rothrock. The Hearing Board now issues the following " Opinion and Decision Imposing Sanctions Pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.19(b)."

I. SUMMARY

Respondent engaged in misconduct in the course of seeking to adopt her second cousin's baby. She circumvented proper channels for the adoption by falsely listing her own husband as the birth father on the baby's birth certificate, and she later filed a petition for stepparent adoption in which she referred to her husband as the birth father. She also counseled her husband to falsely aver that he was the birth father in a related filing. Respondent stipulated that these actions violated Colo. RPC 1.2(d), 3.3(a)(1), 3.3(d), 3.4(b), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d), and the matter proceeded to a sanctions hearing. In light of the significant mitigating factors present here, the Hearing Board concludes that the appropriate sanction is a three-year suspension.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The People filed a complaint on October 7, 2013, alleging Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.2(d) (a lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent); 3.3(a)(1) (a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal); 3.3(d) (in an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the court of all material facts that would enable the court to make an informed decision); 3.4(b) (a lawyer shall not knowingly falsify evidence or either counsel or assist a witness to testify falsely); 8.4(c) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and 8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). After receiving an extension, Respondent filed her answer on November 8, 2013.

The PDJ held an at-issue conference on December 4, 2013. On December 30, 2013,

Page 916

the parties filed a " Stipulated Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to Rule Violations" pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.18(d) and 12(c). In the motion, the parties stated that they did not dispute any material facts in this matter. They therefore asked the PDJ to deem admitted all of the alleged facts in the complaint and to enter judgment on the pleadings as to each claim. The parties asked the PDJ to reserve the issue of the appropriate sanction for consideration by the Hearing Board at a sanctions hearing. The PDJ granted the stipulated motion in an order dated January 7, 2014.

Before the sanctions hearing, the parties agreed to limit use of the name of Respondent's minor child to respect the privacy of the child, Respondent, and other concerned individuals. The parties were permitted to use the child's full name during the sanctions hearing; however, the PDJ directed the court reporter to record all references to the child by his initials, the PDJ sealed the audio recording of the sanctions hearing, and the Hearing Board will refer to the child by his initials in this opinion.

During the sanctions hearing on January 28, 2014, the Hearing Board considered an oral statement from Tristan Antone,[1] heard testimony from Bonnie Saltzman, Julie Johnston, Philip James, and Respondent, and considered stipulated exhibits 1-21.[2] Respondent stipulated at the sanctions hearing to imposition of a three-year suspension, but the People argued that disbarment is necessary to protect the public.

III. FACTS AND RULE VIOLATIONS

Respondent took the oath of admission and was admitted to the bar of the Colorado Supreme Court on October 25, 2004, under attorney registration number 35763.[3] She is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme ...


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