452 P.3d 218 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2019), 18PDJ077, People v. Sherer
|Citation:||452 P.3d 218|
|Opinion Judge:||WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE|
|Party Name:||The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant, v. Michelle Lynn SHERER, #42639, Respondent.|
|Case Date:||June 20, 2019|
|Court:||Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado|
OPINION AND DECISION IMPOSING SANCTIONS UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.19(c)
WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE
In one client representation, Michelle Lynn Sherer ("Respondent") was retained in a divorce matter. She met just once with the client, and she completed almost no substantive work. She then fell out of contact with the client, abandoning the client and refusing to provide a refund or an accounting of her time. In another client matter, Respondent charged unreasonable fees while failing to act diligently and to reasonably communicate with her client. Further, she made knowing misrepresentations to her client and the opposing party during the representation. Respondent also failed to substantively respond to the clients allegations in this disciplinary matter. Respondents many instances of misconduct support a decision of disbarment.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On December 7, 2018, Jacob M. Vos, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with the Presiding Disciplinary Judge ("the Court"). The same day, the People sent copies of the complaint to Respondent via certified mail at her registered business address.1 When the due date for Respondents answer had passed, the People emailed her on February 5, 2019, reminding her to answer.2
On February 22, 2019, the People moved for entry of default. The Court granted the Peoples default motion in March 2019. Upon the entry of default, the Court deemed all facts set forth in the complaint admitted and all rule violations established by clear and convincing evidence.3
At the sanctions hearing held under C.R.C.P. 251.15(b) on June 4, 2019, Vos represented the People. Respondent did not appear. During the hearing, the Peoples exhibits 1-3 were admitted into evidence,4 and the Court heard testimony from Rose Garland.
II. ESTABLISHED FACTS AND RULE VIOLATIONS
Respondent took the oath of admission and was admitted to practice law in Colorado on October 25, 2010, under attorney registration number 42639. She is thus subject to the Courts jurisdiction in this disciplinary proceeding.5
Rose Garland retained Respondent in May 2017 to handle her divorce, paying Respondent a $5,500.00 retainer. The two women met just once. Garland wanted assistance to complete her financial affidavit, and she had questions about a trust that had been set up in her husbands name. Respondent failed to advise Garland about either issue.
Garlands case progressed slowly over the next few months: Respondent sent Garland a draft petition on August 17, 2017, but the petition reflected very little substantive work. Respondent accomplished little else on the case. On August 17, 2017, Garland emailed Respondent, asking for an accounting of the time spent on her matter and terminating the representation. Respondent did not respond for a month. She then promised to file for Garlands divorce by October 1, 2017. She failed to do so. Thereafter, Garland requested on numerous occasions the return of the balance of her retainer. Respondent never produced an accounting of her fees, refunded the balance of Garlands funds, or returned Garlands files. Garland ultimately filed for divorce pro se.
Between May and October 2017, Respondents trust account balance did not hold more than $2,500.00.
Respondent has sporadically been in touch with the People about this matter, but she failed to answer calls for scheduled telephone interviews. Likewise, she failed to substantively respond to Garlands allegations.
Through this misconduct, Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.3, which provides that a lawyer shall act with diligence and promptness when representing a client; Colo. RPC 1.4(b), which provides that a lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation; Colo. RPC 1.16(d), which provides that a lawyer must take steps upon termination to protect a clients interests, including by giving reasonable notice to the client and refunding unearned fees; Colo. RPC 1.15A(b), which provides that a lawyer who receives funds or property of a client must promptly deliver to the client any funds or property that the client is entitled to receive and, on request, provide an accounting as to that property; and Colo. RPC 1.15A(a), which provides that a lawyer must hold any client property separate from the lawyers own property.
Respondent began representing Laura Davis in her domestic relations case in April 2017. Around that time, $4,285.06 in unearned fees were transferred from Ms. Daviss former attorney to Respondent. Respondent handled the case on an hourly fee basis, but she issued her last fee invoice in the case on May 9, 2017. That invoice, which accurately reflected a credit for the transferred funds, showed an outstanding balance of $2,684.25.
At the time Respondent began representing Ms. Davis, the Davises were two weeks away from a relocation and child support hearing. Mr. Davis was represented by counsel. On June 22, 2017, the court issued an order denying Mr. Daviss relocation request. Mr. Daviss counsel withdrew after the court issued its order; Mr. Davis proceeded in the matter pro se. Respondent continued to represent Ms. Davis.
Mr. Davis emailed Respondent a number of times about payment for childcare and other collateral issues. Respondent was slow to respond. On September 7, 2017, Respondent emailed Mr. Davis, "I will respond to your several emails tomorrow. We have filed a motion regarding parenting time and needless attorney fees my client has encountered. Please let me know if you retain an attorney. I am in the process of recouping what my client has lost."6 But the email was inaccurate: Respondent had not filed any such motion before she sent the email. Nor did she file such a motion after she sent the email.
Respondent was also slow to communicate with her client, Ms. Davis. The court issued a support order in mid-September. Respondent told Ms. Davis that she would appeal or move to modify the support order, but she did not do so.
Mr. Davis continued to contact Respondent in October 2017 about Ms. Daviss failure to pay her childcare and child support obligations...
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