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Price v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, Presiding Disciplinary Judge

December 9, 2015

GEORGE C. PRICE, Petitioner
v.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, Respondent

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to revision upon final publication.

SYLLABUS

Following a reinstatement hearing, a hearing board denied George C. Price (Attorney Registration Number 10652) reinstatement to the practice of law pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.29. Price may not file another petition for reinstatement for two years.

In May 2010, Price was suspended for one year and one day for his misconduct in seven client matters, including lack of diligence, lack of communication, failing to give clients written fee agreements, and asserting a frivolous claim.

In January 2013, Price was suspended for two years and four months. The misconduct forming the basis of his suspension included failing to provide his clients with notice of his 2010 suspension, continuing to practice law while suspended, disclosing his client's case information to another law firm without his client's consent, failing to provide an accounting to a client before distributing the client's funds to a third party, and keeping certain fees for himself without his law firm's permission.

The Hearing Board concluded that reinstatement was not appropriate because Price was unable to prove by clear and convincing evidence his rehabilitation, his fitness to practice law, and his full compliance with all applicable disciplinary orders. Please see the full opinion below.

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE. Thomas J. Overton, HEARING BOARD MEMBER. Gary L. Polidori, HEARING BOARD MEMBER.

Page 507

OPINION AND DECISION DENYING REINSTATEMENT PURSUANT TO C.R.C.P. 251.29(e)

In 2010, George C. Price (" Petitioner" ) was suspended from the practice of law for one year and one day based on his misconduct in seven client matters. He was then suspended in 2013 for two years and four months for failing to comply with the rules governing suspended lawyers. In this reinstatement proceeding, Petitioner has not offered clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has substantially complied with disciplinary orders and rules, and is fit to practice law. Petitioner will not be reinstated to the practice of law.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Petitioner took the oath of admission and was admitted to the bar of the Colorado Supreme Court on October 17, 1980, under attorney registration number 10652. He is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Hearing Board in

Page 508

this reinstatement proceeding.[1] On March 26, 2010, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge, William R. Lucero (" the PDJ" ), approved a conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Petitioner's license for a period of one year and one day. The suspension took effect May 31, 2010. Petitioner did not seek reinstatement from this suspension. On January 17, 2013, the PDJ approved a second conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Petitioner's license for an additional two years and four months, effective that same day.

On May 29, 2015, Petitioner filed a petition for reinstatement. Katrin Miller Rothgery, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (" the People" ), answered on June 8, 2015. The PDJ held a scheduling conference on June 22, 2015, and set this matter for a hearing under C.R.C.P. 251.29(d) and 251.18. On October 6, 2015, a Hearing Board comprising Thomas J. Overton and Gary L. Polidori, members of the bar, and the PDJ held the reinstatement hearing. Petitioner appeared pro se, and Rothgery appeared on behalf of the People. The Hearing Board considered testimony from Frank Roman, Andrew McCollum, and Petitioner. The PDJ admitted stipulated exhibits S1-S10 and Petitioner's exhibits 1-3 and 5.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

The findings of fact here--aside from the sections describing Petitioner's disciplinary record and conditional admissions of misconduct--are drawn from testimony offered at the reinstatement hearing, where not otherwise noted.

Petitioner's Past Disciplinary Record

Petitioner received a letter of admonition in 1991, a second letter in 1993, and a third in 1994.[2] These matters involved his neglect of clients, failure to provide written fee agreements, lack of communication, and misrepresentation. Petitioner was later suspended for one year and one day on December 16, 1996, for seriously neglecting multiple client matters, as well as for mishandling client funds and writing bad checks.[3]

Petitioner petitioned for reinstatement from this suspension in 2000.[4] Before that reinstatement hearing was held, however, the People filed two disciplinary complaints against Petitioner. These complaints were premised upon Petitioner's disregard of the rules requiring him to wind up his practice, including neglecting to file the required affidavits, to notify his clients and opposing counsel of his suspension, and to advise his clients to seek substitute counsel. The People also alleged that he continued to represent clients while suspended.[5] A hearing board found that Petitioner had committed these additional disciplinary violations and recommended suspending him for yet an additional period of time.[6] The hearing board also determined Petitioner was unable to prove his compliance with all applicable disciplinary orders, rehabilitation, and fitness to practice. Thus, it recommended denial of his petition for reinstatement.[7] The Colorado Supreme Court accepted this recommendation on January 16, 2001.[8] But it declined to suspend Petitioner for an additional year and one day, as the hearing board had also recommended, reasoning that an additional suspension would not meaningfully protect the public in light of the two-year bar against filing for reinstatement.[9]

On January 14, 2002, Petitioner filed a second petition for reinstatement and was ultimately reinstated to the practice of law on November 22, 2002.

Page 509

Petitioner's 2010 Conditional Admission of Misconduct

As set forth in the 2010 conditional admission of misconduct (case number 09PDJ025, consolidated with 09PDJ091 and 10PDJ020), Petitioner engaged in misconduct in seven client matters.

In the first matter, Petitioner agreed to represent Duane Dillon in a discrimination matter against his former employer. Once the case was at issue, Petitioner took no action and completed no discovery. Petitioner also never responded to three letters sent by opposing counsel and failed to file a response to a motion to dismiss. Petitioner agreed that this conduct violated Colo. RPC 1.3, which requires lawyers to act with reasonable diligence and promptness.

In a second client representation, Herman Ortiz hired Petitioner to file a discrimination complaint against his employers. Ortiz passed away in November 2005, effectively terminating the representation. Petitioner then created an estate for Ortiz but did not enter into a fee agreement with Ortiz's personal representative. In May 2008, Petitioner filed the discrimination complaint in federal district court and paid the filing fee by check, but his check was returned by the court as unpaid. Thereafter, Petitioner filed a motion for default. On November 4, 2008, the court issued an order stating that Petitioner's affidavits of service were incomplete. Petitioner waited more than three months to correct this filing. Petitioner admitted that his conduct in this matter violated Colo. RPC 1.3 and Colo. RPC 1.5(c), which prohibits lawyers from entering into contingent fee agreements that do not conform to the requirements of Chapter 23.3 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.

The third matter involved Petitioner's representation of Stephen Rees. Petitioner represented Rees in two discrimination cases against his employer. Petitioner never clarified the basis of his fee in writing. Petitioner acknowledged that this conduct violated Colo. RPC 1.5(c).

In the fourth matter, Betty Johnson retained Petitioner in a discrimination case against her employer. Johnson paid Petitioner $2,000.00 for the representation. Johnson never received a written fee agreement from Petitioner, who admitted he again violated Colo. RPC 1.5(c).

In a fifth client representation, Petitioner agreed to arbitrate a claim against a car dealer for undisclosed vehicle deficiencies on behalf of his client Julio Morales. On July 2, 2007, Morales paid Petitioner $1,250.00. The parties did not enter into a written fee agreement. Petitioner sent an arbitration request to the National Arbitration Forum (" NAF" ), but his request was denied on July 30, 2007, because it was not accompanied by a filing fee. NAF thereafter denied Morales's claim and closed the file. Morales gave Petitioner two money orders in February 2009 for the filing fee. Petitioner sent the money orders to NAF but did not include Morales's request for arbitration, and as a result, the money orders were lost. Petitioner stipulated that his conduct in this case violated Colo. RPC 1.3 and Colo. RPC 1.4, requiring lawyers to reasonably communicate with their clients.

In a sixth matter, Petitioner agreed to represent Judy Bachmeyer in a case against the Archdiocese of Denver, with Richard Brentlinger acting as his co-counsel. Bachmeyer's case settled in January 2008 for $40,000.00. Petitioner placed the settlement funds in his trust account and paid Bachmeyer her portion. Petitioner retained $16,402.26 from the settlement, even though he was only entitled to $8,000.00 for his attorney's fees. Rather than immediately tendering $8,402.26 to Brentlinger's firm, Petitioner moved this sum into his operating account and then into his personal account. Petitioner consumed these funds for his personal use. Thereafter, he used personal funds to repay Brentlinger's firm. In this matter, Petitioner agreed that he violated Colo. RPC 1.15(c) (2008), which mandates that lawyers shall keep separate any property in which two or more persons claim interests until there is an accounting and severance of those interests. He also agreed he violated Colo. RPC 1.15(b) (2008), requiring lawyers to promptly deliver to clients or third persons any funds that they are entitled to receive.

Page 510

In the seventh matter, Ralph Bernal hired Petitioner on a contingency fee basis to file a civil suit against three defendants. The case was eventually removed to federal court. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the federal cause of action, and Petitioner's untimely response was stricken by the court. The case was returned to Denver District Court in April 2006. Petitioner took no action on the case until October of that year. Thereafter, Petitioner failed to serve discovery requests or to take any depositions. The court eventually entered summary judgment in the defendants' favor. Petitioner appealed this ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The court of appeals determined that ...


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