418 P.3d 550 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2018), 17PDJ067, People v. Snyder

Docket Nº:17PDJ067
Citation:418 P.3d 550
Opinion Judge:WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE
Party Name:The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant, v. Albert R. SNYDER, #41912, Respondent.
Case Date:April 10, 2018
Court:Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado
 
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418 P.3d 550 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2018)

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant,

v.

Albert R. SNYDER, #41912, Respondent.

No. 17PDJ067

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

April 10, 2018

Page 551

OPINION AND DECISION IMPOSING SANCTIONS UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.19(c)

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE

Page 552

Albert R. Snyder ("Respondent") was hired to obtain lawful permanent residence status for a Mexican national married to a U.S. citizen. Respondent failed to communicate with the couple during the representation and failed to effectively explain his legal strategies. Further, his inaction on the case resulted in the expiry of the husband’s immigration petition. While representing these clients, Respondent was administratively suspended from the practice of law, yet he failed to advise the couple of his suspension, and he did not withdraw from the representation. Respondent could never produce an accounting of his time or attorney’s fees. Respondent’s misconduct warrants suspension for three years.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Jacob M. Vos, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero ("the Court") on September 22, 2017. The People sent a copy of the complaint to Respondent’s registered address. They also sent him the complaint via email, and Respondent replied, confirming receipt. But Respondent failed to file an answer. By order dated December 1, 2017, the Court entered default, thereby deeming admitted the allegations and claims in the complaint.

On March 8, 2018, the Court held a sanctions hearing under C.R.C.P. 251.15(b). Vos represented the People; Respondent did not appear.1 The People’s exhibits 1-16 were admitted into evidence, and the Court heard testimony from Marta Hawk and Francisco Sanchez Ruiz, who both testified by telephone.2

II. ESTABLISHED FACTS AND RULE VIOLATIONS

The Court adopts and incorporates by reference the averments in the admitted complaint,

Page 553

presented here in condensed form. Respondent took the oath of admission and was admitted to practice law in Colorado on April 23, 2010, under attorney registration number 41912. He is thus subject to the Court’s jurisdiction in this disciplinary proceeding.3

This case arises out of Respondent’s representation of Marta Hawk, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Francisco Sanchez Ruiz, a Mexican national. Ruiz entered the United States without inspection and lived in the country illegally for many years. Ruiz and Hawk were married in April 2014.

The couple hired Respondent in April or May 2014, in order to secure for Ruiz lawful permanent residency, known as a green card. Prior to retaining Respondent, Ruiz filed for certification under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") and received a work permit. The couple wanted to secure Ruiz’s green card before the 2016 presidential election.

Hawk paid Respondent between $3,500.00 and $5,000.00 for the representation. Respondent did not give the couple a fee agreement or any other writing memorializing his fees. Neither Hawk nor Respondent retained written records of payments. Respondent also failed to maintain any accounting records.

Beginning in May 2014 and continuing until December 2015, Respondent was administratively suspended from the practice of law for failing to pay his attorney registration fees. He knew about his suspension and was required to notify Hawk and Ruiz of the suspension.4 He did not do so, nor did he withdraw from the representation.

In June 2014, Respondent prepared and filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). This petition was filed to establish the existence of the couple’s marriage and to petition the U.S. government for Ruiz’s immigration visa. The couple received notice in fall 2014 that USCIS had approved the petition and that the matter had been transferred to the National Visa Center ("NVC") for processing.

Ruiz next needed to file Form I-601A to waive his unlawful presence in the United States and apply for an immigration visa through consular processing in Cuidad Juarez. To obtain the waiver, Ruiz needed to show that a refusal of his admission to the United States would cause an extreme hardship to his family. Neither Respondent nor Ruiz filed this form. Respondent did not inform the couple about the next step in Ruiz’s immigration process, although he did give Hawk a list of documents to assemble.

Beginning in December 2014, Respondent became less communicative with the couple. Respondent planned to prepare an I-864 Affidavit of Support, demonstrating that Hawk could support Ruiz. Respondent collected some of the supporting documents from Hawk but never filed the affidavit.

On April 5, 2015, Hawk paid Respondent $200.00 in cash, and Respondent gave her a receipt. The next day, he collected an additional $445.00 from her, and again gave her a receipt. These were the only two receipts Hawk received from Respondent.

In September 2015, Hawk contacted Respondent, asking for the list of documents they needed to submit to NVC. He sent her an incomplete list. As December 2015 approached, Hawk told Respondent that the NVC process needed to be completed by the end of February 2016 due to their work schedules. In February 2016, Respondent contacted Hawk and asked for additional information.

The couple met with Respondent on April 16, 2016, to give him the documents they had compiled. During this meeting, Respondent learned that Ruiz’s father, who lived in Mexico, was ill. Respondent discussed with the couple the possibility of Ruiz applying for advance parole, which would allow Ruiz to visit his father in Mexico and reenter the

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United States. Advance parole also permits an applicant to adjust his or her status and to apply for a green card. The couple agreed to proceed with advance parole and believed Respondent would continue with the pending NVC petition. Respondent failed to explain to the couple that by proceeding with advance parole they would be abandoning the NVC process, forfeiting any fees they had previously paid.

In late April 2016, the couple made an appointment at the local USCIS office to apply for advance parole. When they arrived, they realized Respondent had not prepared them for the appointment, and they had to reschedule it. The second appointment was successful: Ruiz was granted advance parole and allowed to return to...

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