People v. Piccone, Case Number: 19PDJ041

Docket NºCase Number: 19PDJ041
Citation459 P.3d 136
Case DateJanuary 13, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

459 P.3d 136

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Complainant,
v.
Juliet Rene PICCONE, #30934, Respondent.

Case Number: 19PDJ041

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

January 13, 2020.


459 P.3d 140

OPINION AND DECISION IMPOSING SANCTIONS UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.19(b)

WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE

In two separate client cases, Juliet Rene Piccone ("Respondent") signed engagement agreements containing a provision permitting her to reverse previously granted courtesy discounts if her representation was terminated before the case's completion. This provision offended Colo. RPC 1.5(g), which prohibits agreements that purport to restrict clients' rights to terminate representation. In the same cases, Respondent made eight posts on social media that revealed client information; some of those posts also disclosed confidential attorney-client communications and disparaged her clients. She thereby violated Colo. RPC 1.6(a). And in connection with one of those cases, Respondent posted on social media embarrassing information that had no substantial purpose other to humiliate opposing counsel, which contravened Colo. RPC 4.4(a). Respondent's misconduct warrants a suspension of six months, all stayed upon the successful completion

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of conditions during a two-year probationary period.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 4, 2019, Erin R. Kristofco, Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel ("the People"), filed a complaint with Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero ("the PDJ"), alleging that Respondent violated Colo. RPC 1.5(g) (Claim I), Colo. RPC 1.6(a) (Claim II), Colo. RPC 3.6(a) (Claim III), and Colo. RPC 4.4(a) (Claim IV). Respondent filed an answer through her counsel, Gerald D. Pratt, on July 2, 2019. The PDJ then set a four-day trial.

A hearing in this matter was held from November 12 through 15, 2019, heard by a Hearing Board comprising the PDJ and lawyers Dean S. Neuwirth and Boston H. Stanton Jr. Kristofco represented the People, and Respondent appeared with her counsel. A sequestration order was entered. The Hearing Board considered stipulated exhibits S1-S41,1 the People's exhibits 1-6, and Respondent's exhibits A, B, and F. The Hearing Board also heard the testimony of O.J.,2 Jay Swearingen, Anthony Youngblood, Jenee Shipman, "City Attorney," and Respondent.

On November 20, 2019, the parties filed a "Stipulation Re Certain Matters Addressed at the Hearing," in which they agreed that exhibit S5 should be suppressed, City Attorney's name should be redacted in the hearing transcript, and Respondent's clients should be referred to by their initials in this opinion.3

II. FACTUAL FINDINGS AND LEGAL ANALYSIS

Respondent was admitted to practice law in Colorado on October 25, 1999, under attorney registration number 30934. She is thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Hearing Board in this disciplinary proceeding.4

Findings of Fact

These findings, which we conclude have been established by clear and convincing evidence, are drawn from testimony at the disciplinary hearing where not otherwise indicated. All of the events described in the Bandit and Diamond cases took place in 2017.

Respondent was born and raised in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. She graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a major in political science, and then attended the University of Colorado Law School, earning her law degree in 1999. She was admitted to practice law in Colorado that same year. As a newly minted lawyer, Respondent clerked for a judge in Colorado's Eighth Judicial District and then worked for a series of insurance defense firms. During that period she read an article about animal law, which intrigued her. As she recounted, "I've always loved animals. When I was a kid, my pets were my friends ... I was kind of lonely, but they were always there." She set a goal of becoming an animal law practitioner.

By 2012, Respondent had saved enough money to pursue her ambition. She quit her job and volunteered as a part-time intern at The Animal Law Center ("TALC") for ten months. But the organization was not in a financial position to offer her employment, so she struck out on her own in 2013 as eponymous founder of The Piccone Law Firm, LLC, where she began a practice in varied areas of animal law. As the owner of and sole lawyer in the firm, Respondent handles all facets of her law practice, including billing and administrative work. In addition, she manages her law firm's social media, including its Facebook page.

Respondent is also a self-described animal rights activist. In 2014, she established two 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit corporations: the first, Saving Colorado Shelter Pets, Inc., was a vehicle to advance a ballot proposal

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mandating that all Colorado animal shelters be designated "no-kill"; the second, Colorado for Breed-Neutral Dog Laws, lobbied to repeal the City of Aurora's pit bull restriction. In her capacity as an activist, Respondent administered a Facebook page called SAVE pets from Aurora Colorado Animal Care and Control ("SAVE").5

Bandit's Case

S.T. and O.J., an Aurora couple, owned a pit bull named Bandit. On January 4, 2017, Bandit ran out the front door of the family's house and bit a FedEx delivery man in the face.6 The City of Aurora ("the City") impounded Bandit and charged S.T. with four city ordinance violations: (1) dog running at large; (2) keeping an aggressive or dangerous animal; (3) failure to obtain a rabies inoculation; and (4) unlawful keeping of a restricted breed (pit bull).7 The City lodged these charges with the Aurora Municipal Court under case number K64573.8

An expedited disposition hearing was set for January 13, during which the Aurora Municipal Court was to decide whether Bandit could be released back into the community safely under S.T.'s ownership and control.9 At the hearing, S.T. represented himself,10 and Kyle McDaniel, a lawyer from the City Attorney's Office, represented the City. The judge announced the four charges and then asked S.T., whose native language is Russian, whether he felt more comfortable proceeding with a Russian interpreter.11 S.T. declined the offer. The prosecution moved to dismiss the rabies charge after S.T. presented proof of Bandit's inoculation, and the parties agreed to move forward with the proceeding that day.12

At the hearing, two witnesses testified: S.T.'s son, and Aurora Animal Care and Control ("AACC") officer Carlie Perry, who described the details of the dog bite incident, her investigation, and her observations about Bandit.13 Perry opined that Bandit's surrender to AACC was appropriate because she did not feel confident that Bandit could be released safely back into the community.14 S.T.'s son outlined his family's history and relationship with Bandit, and he described various pictures of Bandit that were admitted into evidence.15

At the end of that hearing, the court found that Bandit could not be safely maintained and controlled within the community.16 Whether Bandit could be transferred and adopted outside of the City was a question the court left "to the discretion of Animal Care and [its] best judgment as to what will happen with the dog next."17 The court ordered that Bandit be surrendered to AACC for disposition, directed S.T. to pay $370.00 in impound fees, and set a future court date—February 24—for arraignment on S.T.'s pending municipal ordinance charges.18 The court also issued a stay of execution on Bandit's destruction pending possible appeal.19

On February 6, O.J. appeared in Aurora Municipal Court to begin the process of appealing the court's order disposing of Bandit.20 The court required O.J. to pay $900.00 for costs of Bandit's upkeep during the first sixty days of the appeal process, and another

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$450.00 per month thereafter in order to stay Bandit's destruction order.21 O.J. paid the $900.00, as required, that day.22

S.T. and O.J. retained Respondent on February 13 to appeal Bandit's disposition order and to represent S.T. on the pending municipal ordinance charges.23 The couple signed Respondent's written engagement agreement,24 which contained certain notable provisions.

The first provision permitted Respondent to "share confidential information relating to this representation" with the couple's seventeen-year-old son.25 A second section of the engagement agreement covered "Publicity, Media and Fundraising." It stated, "If you and we agree" that media coverage or use of social media may be of some benefit, certain "protocol shall be followed."26 The agreement allowed the firm to provide "non-confidential information from the public record to the media, on social media and in interviews, but all confidences will be preserved."27 It also permitted Respondent to use photographs of Bandit on social media and websites, and to discuss the case in "generic non-identifying terms," even at the conclusion of the representation.28

The same section of the agreement permitted Respondent to launch fundraisers to pay for the legal...

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1 practice notes
  • To Err is Human, to Apologize is Hard: the Role of Apologies in Lawyer Discipline
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Nbr. 34-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...It is unclear, however, how frequently they are required without the lawyer’s consent. 83. See, e.g., People v. Piccone, 459 P.3d 136, 163 (Colo. 2020) (requiring apology to City Attorney); Fla. Bar v. Michaels, 2018 Fla. LEXIS 2652, No. SC16-2018, at *1 (Fla. Sept. 27, 2018) (aff‌irming un......
1 books & journal articles
  • To Err is Human, to Apologize is Hard: the Role of Apologies in Lawyer Discipline
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Nbr. 34-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...It is unclear, however, how frequently they are required without the lawyer’s consent. 83. See, e.g., People v. Piccone, 459 P.3d 136, 163 (Colo. 2020) (requiring apology to City Attorney); Fla. Bar v. Michaels, 2018 Fla. LEXIS 2652, No. SC16-2018, at *1 (Fla. Sept. 27, 2018) (aff‌irming un......

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