452 P.3d 275 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2019), 16PDJ057, People v. Romero

Docket Nº:Number: 16PDJ057
Citation:452 P.3d 275
Opinion Judge:WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE
Party Name:The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner, v. Douglas Leo ROMERO, #35464, Respondent.
Case Date:July 23, 2019
Court:Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado
 
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452 P.3d 275 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2019)

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner,

v.

Douglas Leo ROMERO, #35464, Respondent.

No. Number: 16PDJ057

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

July 23, 2019

Page 276

ORDER REVOKING PROBATION UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.7(e)

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE

After serving a disciplinary suspension in 2017, Douglas Leo Romero ("Respondent") was placed on probation. Respondent violated

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several of the Rules of Professional Conduct during his probation, so his probation must be revoked.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In December 2016, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge ("the Court") approved a "Stipulation, Agreement and Affidavit Containing the Respondent’s Conditional Admission of Misconduct," suspending Respondent from the practice of law for one year, with five months to be served and seven months to be stayed upon the successful completion of a three-year period of probation. In the stipulation, Respondent agreed that he violated Colo. RPC 1.1 (competence); Colo. RPC 1.3 (diligence); Colo. RPC 1.6 (confidentiality of information); Colo. RPC 3.3(a)(1) (candor toward the tribunal); Colo. RPC 5.1 (responsibilities of a partner or supervisory lawyer); Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); and C.R.C.P. 251.21(a) (reciprocal discipline). The suspension took effect February 1, 2017. As part of his probation, Respondent was required to complete ethics school and trust account school, abide by practice monitoring requirements, initiate fee arbitration with a former client, and, as relevant here, refrain from any further rule violations.

In June 2017, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People") notified the Court that they had received affidavits from Respondent in support of his request for reinstatement under C.R.C.P. 251.29(b). In the notice, the People disputed whether Respondent had timely satisfied the portions of the Court’s order directing him to comply with C.R.C.P. 251.28 (winding up duties) and to pay costs. The Court thus held in abeyance Respondent’s request for reinstatement. After considering Respondent’s response and the People’s reply, the Court ordered the parties to endeavor to reach a negotiated resolution to the dispute.

In August 2017, the parties submitted a "Notice of Stipulation Regarding Reinstatement and Request to Vacate Hearing," indicating that they had agreed to a resolution: Respondent’s license would be reinstated on October 1, 2017, when his three-year period of probation would begin. The Court approved the parties’ stipulation and reinstated Respondent’s license effective October 1, 2017.

On April 10, 2019, the People filed a "Motion for Order to Show Cause Pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.7(e)" alleging that Respondent may have violated the terms of his probation by transgressing the Rules of Professional Conduct.1 The Court issued a show cause order. After receiving the People’s unopposed motion to set a hearing, the Court set a probation revocation hearing for June 12-13, 2019. Respondent filed his response to the show cause order on May 1, 2019.

At the June probation revocation hearing, Justin P. Moore appeared for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), and Respondent appeared with his counsel, Victoria E. Lovato.2 The Court admitted stipulated exhibits S1-S17 and considered testimony from Respondent, Aaron Conrardy, Magistrate Melissa Annis, Judge Adam Espinosa, Maricela Mendoza, Amanda Cisneros, and James Sudler.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

The People allege that in 2018 Respondent violated his probationary conditions by violating the Rules of Professional Conduct in three client representations. The Court makes findings of fact below regarding Respondent’s law practice and other background information, each client representation, and Respondent’s practice monitoring.3

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Background

Respondent has been licensed to practice law in Colorado since 2004. He represents clients in civil, criminal, and immigration cases, including in Denver district and county courts. He estimates he has handled over 500 cases in Denver County Court alone.

Respondent owns a law firm called Colorado Christian Defense Counsel, where he employs associates, paralegals, and administrative staff. Though at one time he had a large number of associates, in 2018 just three other attorneys worked for him, one of whom— Mark Scabavea— was not licensed in Colorado.4

Two members of Respondent’s staff testified about his general practices. Maricela Mendoza, a paralegal, testified that Respondent takes deadlines very seriously and has "zero tolerance" for incorrect calendaring of hearings. According to Mendoza, the firm maintains a master calendar, and when court dates are set an email is sent to all members of the office. She said that the firm has arrangements with three outside counsel, including lawyers Don Martin and Christopher Skip, to help cover hearings when the firm’s lawyers cannot be present.5 Amanda Cisneros, Respondent’s docket clerk, testified that if Respondent realizes he will be late to a court appearance he requires his staff to take every possible step to alert the court and to inform the client.

On April 10, 2018, Respondent had abdominal surgery, which had been scheduled six or eight weeks prior. He returned home from the hospital later that day, with a drain for his wound and on "pretty heavy" medication. Respondent worked on client matters after returning home, though he remained on medication and was "dragging." He insisted that he "needed to work." Respondent relapsed within several days and was directed to go to an emergency room if his condition worsened. He testified that it was not until after the surgery that he realized he had been "not [him]self" during the period before the surgery.

Another event during the relevant timeframe in 2018 was Respondent’s representation of a client named Charles Jaramillo in a matter not directly at issue here. Jaramillo faced serious sexual offense charges in Douglas County. The Jaramillo family was friends with Respondent’s parents, so the matter was "personal" to Respondent, and he prioritized it over other cases. In July 2018, a trial was set in that matter for November 13-16, 2018. The jury deliberated from November 16 through November 20.

Active Transport Matter

In 2018, Respondent represented Elet Valentine in a matter styled Shelter Financial Services v. Active Transport Carrier in Denver District Court. Valentine was a corporate officer of Active Transport. Active Transport had entered into a loan agreement with Shelter Financial for the purchase of a semi-tractor, which was security for the loan. Active Transport allegedly defaulted on payments. In December 2017, lawyer Aaron Conrardy filed a replevin action on Shelter Financial’s behalf to recover the semi-tractor.

On February 22, 2018, the court issued an order directing a proposed case management order to be filed by April 10, 2018, and setting a case management conference for April 17.6 This order is consistent with C.R.C.P. 16, which requires a proposed case management order to be filed a week before a case management conference. Conrardy testified that plaintiff’s counsel typically circulates the first draft of proposed orders of this nature, the drafting is normally a joint effort, and the proposed orders are usually filed jointly.

Respondent entered his appearance in the Active Transport case in March 2018, after Valentine’s previous counsel withdrew.7 On

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April 5, Conrardy emailed Respondent a proposed case management order.8 Respondent reviewed Conrardy’s email and sent it to Scabavea, who emailed Conrardy on April 5, saying he was assisting with the matter and that Conrardy could direct questions to him.9

Although Conrardy tried to reach both Scabavea and Respondent, Conrardy said he did not hear back from either lawyer about the proposed order before it was due. Conrardy thus filed the proposed order without Respondent’s participation. In the proposed order, Conrardy states: Disclaimer: Plaintiff’s counsel emailed this proposed case management order to Defendant’s counsel on April 5, 2018, then sent follow-up emails on April 9 and April 10. Defendant’s counsel acknowledged receipt in an April 5 email. Plaintiff’s counsel attempted to reach Defendant’s counsel by telephone on April 9 and April 10. On April 9, the call did not go through. On April 10, the voicemail was full. Accordingly, Defendant’s position with respect to this proposed case management order is unknown.[10]

Respondent testified that he was suffering from the medical...

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