Joy v. Kentucky Bar Association, 012121 KYSC, 2020-SC-0537-KB

Docket Nº2020-SC-0537-KB
Judge PanelMinton, C.J.; Hughes, Keller, Lambert, Nickell, and VanMeter, JJ., sitting. Conley, J., not sitting.
Case DateJanuary 21, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Kentucky




No. 2020-SC-0537-KB

Supreme Court of Kentucky

January 21, 2021


On November 10, 2020, Sebastian Midhun Joy moved for consensual discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 3.480(2) based on a negotiated sanction agreement with the Kentucky Bar Association (KBA) to resolve the pending disciplinary matters against him in two separate cases (KBA File Nos. 19-DIS-0065 and 19-DIS-0156). Joy requests an order imposing a sanction of a 181-day suspension, probated for one year with conditions. The KBA filed a response stating it had no objection to the Motion for Consensual Discipline. Because Joy and the KBA have agreed on the sanction, and our caselaw supports the proposed resolution in this matter, we hold this sanction to be the appropriate discipline for Joy's conduct and grant his motion.

Joy's KBA member number is 92583 and his bar roster address is 2701 Louisa Street, P.O. Box 411, Catlettsburg, Kentucky 41129. He was admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky on October 17, 2008.

KBA FILE 2019-DIS-0065

Joy was retained by Brad Roberts in November of 2018 to represent him in connection with a charge of manslaughter related to the death of an inmate at the Boyd County Jail where Roberts worked. Roberts was jailed on a $100, 000 full cash bond. Joy indicated his fee would be $35, 000 to be paid in three installments beginning with an immediate payment of $10, 000. The initial payment was made on January 3, 2019. No written fee agreement was executed, nor did Joy communicate the basis or rate of the fee and expenses to Roberts. In response to the forthcoming Bar complaint, Joy stated he was unable to have Roberts sign a fee agreement because attorney-client contact was not allowed at the Fayette County Detention Center where Roberts was being housed, a statement he would later acknowledge was false.

Joy had several meetings at the Fayette County Detention Center with Roberts during the representation. Although Joy believes he met with Roberts on December 24, 2018, jail records do not confirm this, and Roberts has no recollection such meeting occurred. Joy would later bill Roberts for the meeting. Following an arraignment, the trial court scheduled a bond hearing at which the court agreed to permit $25, 000 of the bond to be posted in cash with the remainder secured by real property. Upon being informed Roberts' uncle would be willing to provide stocks and bonds as security for the bond if it could be posted in his name, Joy filed a motion to amend the bond conditions to allow the non-cash portion to be secured by stocks and bonds. No request was made to allow the security to be posted in the uncle's name.

Dissatisfied, Roberts' uncle engaged separate counsel to petition the trial court to amend the bond conditions to permit him to post the bond in his own name "to prevent it from being attached by an attorney or any individuals who may have liens against [Roberts] or any creditors." The trial court granted the motion and the uncle posted bond shortly thereafter.

One week later, Roberts terminated Joy's representation. Joy provided replacement counsel with his complete file including discovery which had previously been provided by the Commonwealth. As requested, Joy sent an itemized invoice to Roberts for services rendered. After deducting the initial payment of $10, 000, the invoice reflected an outstanding balance of $1, 386.74. Included in the invoice were charges of $1, 655.28 for the disputed 1.1 hour meeting on December 24, 2018, $1, 715.28 for a 1.3 hour meeting on January 2, 2019, and $1, 565.28 for a 0.8 hour meeting on January 15, 2019. These charges included travel time and mileage reimbursement expenses.

Based on these events, the Inquiry Commission issued a five-count charge against Joy in KBA File 2019-DIS-0065. The first charge alleged violation of SCR 3.130(1.5)(a) which provides a "lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses . . . ." The Inquiry Commission asserted Joy violated the rule by charging excessive fees for the three meetings with Roberts outlined above, including the meeting on December 24, 2018, which likely did not even occur.

The second charge alleged violation of SCR 3.130(1.5)(b) which provides [t]he scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, except when the lawyer will charge a regularly represented client on the same basis or rate. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be communicated to the client.

The Inquiry Commission believed Joy's failure to communicate the scope of his representation and the basis of the fee to Roberts was a violation...

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