People v. Hyde, 112718 COPDJ, 18PDJ030
|Party Name:||THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO Complainant v. PATRICK C. HYDE, #14633 Respondent|
|Judge Panel:||WILLIAM R. LUCERO PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE W. ERIC KUHN HEARING BOARD MEMBER MATTHEW T. DALY HEARING BOARD MEMBER|
|Case Date:||November 27, 2018|
|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(b)
In 2011, Patrick C. Hyde ("Respondent") was entrusted with $1, 000.00 for legal work in an immigration case. He kept inadequate records regarding that payment. Even though he never performed legal services in the matter, he erroneously assumed two years later that he had somehow earned the funds. As a result, he transferred the $1, 000.00 from his trust account into his operating account, commingling the funds with his own. Respondent's breach of Colo. RPC 1.15(a) and 1.15(j) warrants a six-month suspension with the requirement that he petition for reinstatement, if at all, under C.R.C.P. 251.29(c).
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Jacob M. Vos, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero ("the PDJ") on May 25, 2018, alleging that Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.15(a) (2013), 1.15(i)(6) (2013), and 1.15(j) (2013).Respondent answered on June 15, 2018, denying the People's claims.
Respondent moved to dismiss the case on statute of limitations grounds on September 5, 2018. The PDJ denied the motion two weeks later, finding that Respondent did not timely raise the defense. On October 1, 2018, the PDJ denied Respondent's motion to discharge a previous disciplinary order entered in case number 15PDJ103.
On October 2, 2018, a Hearing Board comprising the PDJ, attorney W. Eric Kuhn, and lay member Matthew T. Daly held a hearing under C.R.C.P. 251.18. Vos represented the People, and Respondent appeared pro se. The Hearing Board considered stipulated exhibits S1-S9, Respondent's exhibit A, the People's exhibits 2-4, and the testimony of Yesica Trujillo, Armando Ramos, 2 William O'Donnell,  and Respondent.
II. FACTS AND RULE VIOLATIONS
This case centers on Respondent's alleged representation of Yesica Trujillo and Armando Ramos in Ramos's removal case. Respondent is a Denver-area immigration lawyer who has been practicing since 1985. Trujillo, a U.S. citizen, has been married for nearly a decade to Ramos, and the couple has three children. Ramos was born in El Salvador. He has lived in the United States without legal status since 2003, working as a roofer. Ramos is subject to a 2008 removal order, but he remains in Colorado with his family.
The facts underlying this disciplinary case as recounted by Respondent differ markedly from the facts as recounted by Trujillo and Ramos. We present a brief summary of the two narratives followed by a synopsis of the facts we find to be established by clear and convincing evidence.
According to Trujillo and Ramos, Ramos who had been living in Florida, came to Colorado for work in 2007. He and Trujillo fell in love and they married in 2009. In 2011, they visited Miami, where they found sealed letters mailed to Ramos's previous address, informing him that he was subject to removal proceedings. After returning to Colorado, the couple met with Respondent in mid-October 2011. At the meeting, which lasted less than an hour, Respondent advised Ramos that he should move to reopen the removal proceeding, which would cost $1, 000.00. A day or two later, Trujillo and Ramos brought Respondent a $1, 000.00 money order for the legal fees. Respondent copied relevant documents belonging to Ramos. Respondent never asked for Trujillo's contact information, nor did he indicate that he needed any additional information to draft the motion. The couple understood that Respondent was their lawyer. Trujillo later tried to reach Respondent on several occasions but had no success. In 2017, she learned to her dismay that Respondent had never filed a motion to reopen for Ramos.
Respondent, by contrast, maintains that Ramos married Trujillo in a ploy to gain legal status only after learning that he was subject to removal proceedings. Respondent asserts that he never once met Ramos. Instead, he said, Trujillo came to his office alone and specifically requested that he prepare a motion to reopen Ramos's removal proceeding, though she provided only sparse details about the matter. Respondent urged her to leave her contact information and fill out an intake sheet, but she refused to do so. Although Respondent preferred for Ramos to directly pay the legal fees, Trujillo insisted on giving him the $1, 000.00, saying that she had worked hard to save the money and she did not want an emergency to come up that she might spend the money on instead. Respondent accepted Trujillo's money order on the understanding that Ramos would visit his office to discuss his case. Respondent never again heard from Trujillo or Ramos, and he never received any documents relevant to Ramos's case. As he understands the facts today, Respondent believes Ramos had no legal right to file a motion to reopen, so Respondent insists he would not have accepted the representation if he had received detailed information about Ramos's situation in 2011.
Lacking that information at the time, Respondent testified, he placed the $1, 000.00 in his trust account upon receipt. He created a file bearing Trujillo's and Ramos's names, but the file remained empty because the couple never provided any documents. He did not cross reference Trujillo's and Ramos's names in his records. As a result, when he noticed the $1, 000.00 payment in Ramos's name some two years later and could not remember who Ramos was, Respondent figured that Ramos had paid legal fees for some client for whom Respondent had already performed legal services. So, he transferred the money to his operating account. Respondent maintained that he reconciles his trust account daily, making sure that his balance in his financial accounts reflects the figures on his handwritten data sheets and in his QuickBooks records.
The Hearing Board has carefully considered Respondent's account of the facts and Trujillo and Ramos's account, but we find neither narrative wholly credible. We also find, however, that we can decide the merit of the alleged rule violations without pinning down many of the disputed facts.6 In large part, this is because the applicable rules govern practices and recordkeeping related to any funds held in trust in connection with a representation, whether belonging to clients or to third parties.
The Hearing Board finds established by clear and convincing evidence the biographical information set forth in the first paragraph of this section. We also find established the following: 7 Trujillo spoke to Respondent about Ramos's case on October 18, 2011, and gave him a $1, 000.00 money order for work that she believed he would perform in the case.8 The memo line of the money order reads "Attorney fees," and Trujillo wrote in a street address with an apartment number.9 Respondent provided a receipt with the notation "Motion to Reopen."10 On October 19, 2011, Respondent deposited the $1, 000.00 into his trust account under the name "Armando Benjamin Ramos Estrada" with a note "Mt reopen."11 This payment was reflected in Respondent's QuickBooks records.12 On July 26, 2013, Respondent transferred $1, 000.00 in the name of "Armando Ben Ramos Estrada" from his trust account into his operating account.13 When Respondent did so, he had not performed any legal work for Ramos.
In addition to his QuickBooks records, Respondent maintained handwritten records that he labeled "Datasheet Statistics/Trust Acc."14 These records consist of dates, client numbers, and dollar amounts, with some other notations.15 Respondent created a case file folder labeled "Ramos, Armando[, ] Trujillo, Yesica."16
In 2017, Trujillo and Ramos hired immigration attorney William O'Donnell, who moved to reopen the removal case. The motion to reopen involves an assertion that Respondent provided ineffective assistance of counsel. O'Donnell contacted Respondent in February 2017, expressing concern that he had never filed a motion to reopen for Ramos and asking him to refund the $1, 000.00.17 Respondent replied, claiming that the couple had just "drop[ped] everything."18 He offered to give Trujillo $750.00, reflecting the $1, 000.00 payment minus a consultation fee of $250.00.19 When O'Donnell insisted on a full refund, 20Respondent complied in March 2017.21
Colo. RPC 1.15(a)
Colo. RPC 1.15(a) states: "A lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons that is in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property." The People claim that Respondent converted Trujillo's funds by transferring the $1, 000.00 out of his trust account in 2013 and using the...
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