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In re Olsen

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 2, 2014

In the Matter of John R. Olsen

Original Proceeding in Discipline. Appeal from the Hearing Board, 12PDJ013.

SYLLABUS

The supreme court holds that the Hearing Board's order suspending attorney John R. Olsen for six months with the requirement of reinstatement is unreasonable. The Hearing Board found that Olsen engaged in negligent conduct, not knowing falsehood. The supreme court's review of the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions and its prior decisions leads it to conclude that the appropriate sanction against Olsen is public censure rather than suspension.

For Complaintant: Office of the Attorney Regulation Counsel, James C. Coyle, Regulation Counsel, Charles E. Mortimer, Jr., Deputy Regulation Counsel, Denver, Colorado.

John R. Olsen, Respondent, Pro se, Niwot, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 1005

HOBBS, JUSTICE.

[¶1] In this attorney discipline proceeding, we conclude that the Hearing Board's order suspending attorney John R. Olsen for six months with the requirement of reinstatement is unreasonable. The Board found that Olsen had engaged in negligent conduct, not knowing falsehood. Our review of the ABA standards and our prior decisions leads us to conclude that the appropriate sanction against Olsen is public censure rather than suspension. We affirm the Hearing Board's conclusions that Olsen violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.1 and 8.4(d), but we reverse its imposition of a six-month suspension with the requirement of reinstatement and instead order that Olsen be, and hereby is, publicly censured for his misconduct.

I.

[¶2] Olsen was admitted to practice law in Colorado in 1979. The events leading to this disciplinary proceeding stemmed from an unemployment lawsuit Olsen filed on behalf of his client Melissa Mellott in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in October 2009.[1] Mellott retained Olsen in January 2009 through a pro bono program to represent her in an unemployment claim following her termination from MSN Communications, Inc. (" MSN" ). Before agreeing to represent Mellott, Olsen interviewed her and found her to be a highly credentialed engineer. Mellott explained that her husband was an airman stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and that they both had top-secret military clearances due to the nature of their work. Olsen, himself a military veteran, believed her to be credible. Mellott's initial claim for unemployment was successful and she began collecting benefits.

[¶3] Olsen then filed a complaint in the district court, seeking back pay, equal pay, front pay, and benefits for Mellott. From the outset of the underlying litigation, MSN maintained that Mellott's claims were frivolous. It claimed that Mellott had been employed for substantial compensation since her termination from MSN; that Mellott was fraudulently using another woman's social security number to hide her substantial income while collecting unemployment; that Mellott fabricated documents purporting to authorize her use of a second social security number; and that she lied to the district court by asserting she moved to Germany in the summer of 2010.

A. Mellott's Claim for Lost Wages

[¶4] In January and February 2010, MSN discovered that Mellott had been employed since her termination from MSN, and provided Olsen copies of payroll records it had subpoenaed from Blackstone Technology Group (" Blackstone" ) and Qwest Communications (" Qwest" ). Mellott continued to deny that she had been employed " in any capacity." In her April 16, 2010, deposition, Mellott was presented with a W-2 form that contradicted that claim. She asserted that the W-2 was incorrect and denied receiving over $100,000 from Qwest in documented direct-deposited funds. Mellott also denied receiving $51,000 documented by Blackstone. Olsen did not seek to depose Blackstone or Qwest to verify Mellott's version of events. He did claim that he contacted Blackstone's human resources department in an attempt to verify the payroll records and was instructed to obtain a release from Mellott. He did not obtain the release. Olsen also

Page 1006

contacted Qwest and was told that Mellott was being internally investigated and her wages had been frozen as a result. He took no further ...


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