People v. Al-Haqq, Case Number: 15PDJ046 (consolidated with 15PDJ102)

Docket NºCase Number: 15PDJ046 (consolidated with 15PDJ102)
Citation470 P.3d 885
Case DateOctober 06, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

470 P.3d 885

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant
Wazir-Ali Muhammad AL-HAQQ, Respondent

Case Number: 15PDJ046 (consolidated with 15PDJ102)

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

October 6, 2016

470 P.3d 888



In a criminal case, Wazir-Ali Muhammad Al-Haqq ("Respondent") failed to inform his client that he would be out of the country and failed to adequately explain any adverse consequences the trip might have on the case. Respondent also incompetently represented a client in an immigration case, and he did not sufficiently communicate his strategy in getting her a green card. In addition, he charged this client an unreasonable fee for his incompetent representation. While representing a third client in a worker's compensation matter, Respondent failed to act

470 P.3d 889

with reasonable diligence and collected an unreasonable fee for work he completed. When he was terminated, he refused to return his client's file. In all three cases, Respondent technically converted his clients' funds by depositing them into his operating account before they were earned, and he failed to retain accounting, billing, and banking records. Respondent's misconduct warrants a suspension for twenty-four months.


On June 22, 2015, Jacob M. Vos, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero ("the PDJ") in case number 15PDJ046, alleging Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.1, 1.4(b), 1.5(a), 1.8(f), 3.2, 1.15(a), 1.15(j), and 1.16(b) in his representation of three clients. Respondent answered the complaint pro se on July 7, 2015, generally denying any wrongdoing and asserting arguments in response. On July 20, 2015, the People moved to strike Respondent's answer under C.R.C.P. 12(f) and asked the PDJ to order Respondent to comply with C.R.C.P. 8(b). The PDJ granted the People's motion in part, and ordered Respondent to file an amended answer, specifically admitting or denying each allegation of the People's complaint. Respondent filed an amended answer on August 10, 2015.

Troy R. Rackham entered his appearance as Respondent's counsel on September 4, 2015, and the PDJ held a scheduling conference on September 14, 2015. There, the PDJ set the hearing for March 29-30, 2016. The People filed a second complaint against Respondent this time in case number 15PDJ102, on November 19, 2015. The PDJ consolidated the two cases on December 1, 2015, and continued the hearing. Respondent answered the second complaint on January 15, 2016. The parties attended a second scheduling conference on January 21, 2016, and the PDJ reset the hearing for July 12-14, 2016.

On June 20, 2016, the PDJ granted the People's motion for telephone testimony, allowing Ernest Ward—an inmate in Canon City—to testify by telephone at the hearing. On July 7, 2016, the PDJ denied the People's motion in limine, which sought permission to introduce evidence of Respondent's prior discipline during the evidentiary stage of the hearing. Instead, the PDJ permitted the People to submit Respondent's prior discipline in a sealed envelope and allowed the parties to submit a brief under seal with detailed argument concerning the weight of Respondent's prior discipline.

On July 8, 2016, Respondent notified the PDJ that he was in California attending to his ailing father. He sought the PDJ's permission to appear by telephone for the disciplinary hearing or, in the alternative, asked for a continuance. The PDJ denied that motion and ordered Respondent to attend at least one day of the hearing in person. On July 11, 2016, the PDJ granted the People's motion in limine, which proposed to exclude Respondent's late-disclosed character witnesses. The PDJ also denied Respondent's request for a bifurcated hearing.

At the July hearing, Vos appeared for the People and Rackham represented Respondent before a Hearing Board comprising Peter R. Bornstein and John M. Lebsack, members of the bar, and the PDJ. The Hearing Board received testimony from Naomi Ward, Ernest Ward,1 Elisa Orozco-Vasquez, Bryan Boetel, Bryon Large, Ebenezer Assefuah, James Olson, Clifford Eley, Laurie Ann Seab, and Respondent,2 and it considered stipulated exhibits S1-S28 and S30-S43, as well as the People's exhibits 3 and 6-8.3 Because the hearing went longer than anticipated, the parties were ordered to file written closing arguments. The People filed their closing statement on July 21, 2016, Respondent filed his on July 28, 2016, and the People filed a rebuttal on August 1, 2016.

470 P.3d 890


Respondent took the oath of admission and was admitted to the bar of the Colorado Supreme Court on October 22, 1990, under attorney registration number 19900. He is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Hearing Board in this disciplinary proceeding.5

Respondent grew up in Compton, California, and currently resides there while caring for his elderly father. Respondent received his formal education by way of an associate's degree in engineering and technology from Pasadena City College and bachelor's and master's degrees in communications from the University of Colorado. He later earned a master's degree in international studies at the University of Denver and completed law school there. He is licensed to practice law in both California and Colorado. After earning his J.D., he served as a public defender for one year and then practiced law in a private firm for another year.

Next Respondent opened his own general private practice. He practiced law from his home, employing no staff. Before returning to California, Respondent practiced immigration, criminal, domestic relations, and some civil law. Respondent considers himself well-versed in criminal law. He testified that he has tried over 1,000 criminal cases during his career, including felony theft, burglary, and forgery cases. He continues to take continuing legal education ("CLE") courses in criminal law to remain competent. Respondent began practicing immigration law in 2000 and has handled approximately forty immigration cases, mostly in the area of removal and appeals. He has successfully argued one removal appeal based on an extreme hardship waiver. Respondent opined that he is familiar with immigration law precepts and provides competent representation and excellent services to his immigration clients. Respondent has also handled at least ten worker's compensation cases, and he considers himself generally familiar with this area of law. Finally, Respondent attested that he is frequently retained to communicate with third persons on behalf of his clients, and has done so in over 200 cases. He testified that he believes he has a good reputation as a lawyer in Denver.

Recordkeeping and Production of Records

In 2014, the People began investigating Respondent's representation of Ernest Ward, Elisa Orozco-Vasquez, and Ebenezer Assefuah. That year, the People asked Respondent for, among other things, his accounting, billing, and banking records for each of these matters.6 Respondent did not have many records responsive to these requests, but he said that he gave the People what he had—written fee memos in each case, receipts from the Orozco-Vasquez matter, and billing statements in all three cases that were created after termination of the representations. Respondent produced no trust or operating account records or accountings of his clients' funds.7

Respondent explained that it was his general practice in his home office to keep his paper client files in a filing cabinet and all electronic files on his computer. He did not use any billing software to keep track of client funds. Respondent maintained that he was locked out of his home as a result of a court order issued in his dissolution proceeding, which denied him access to his home. The court gave him one day to move his belongings to storage, he said. He placed what he could in storage, yet he never visited that facility to retrieve his possessions or client files, if any. According to Respondent, his ex-wife ransacked what was left in his office, destroying his client files and computer. Consequently, he said, he was unable to provide any records to the People. But Respondent later testified that he did not file for divorce until 2015 and was not barred

470 P.3d 891

from his home until April of that year. Respondent also admitted he was not prevented from producing documents responsive to the People's requests in 2014. Thus, we find that when the People requested Respondent's accounting records in 2014, he still lived in his house and had access to his client files and computer.8

Through this conduct, we find that Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.15(a) and 1.15(j) (2008) in the Ward and Orozco-Vasquez matters. Colo. RPC 1.15(a) requires a lawyer to keep adequate records of all funds held in connection with a representation for seven years after termination. Colo. RPC 1.15(j) also establishes specific requirements for safekeeping property of...

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