Court Opinions: Presiding Disciplinary Judge Opinions for February 2022

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

People v. Brian M. Reed Benight

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge reinstated Brian Benight to practice of law in Colorado, effective Feb. 9. The parties agreed that Benight has been rehabilitated, has complied with disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law.

The case file is public per C.R.C.P. 242.41(a)(2).

People v. Steven Richard Louth

An order entered in Steven Louth’s domestic case in January 2014 required Louth to pay $1,400 in monthly child support. In March 2020, Louth moved to modify child support and parenting time. In July 2020, Louth’s ex-wife moved to compel his financial disclosures, requesting attorney’s fees and sanctions. The court granted the motion and ordered the parties to file sworn financial statements and other materials within two weeks. Around that time, Louth’s ex-wife also sought issuance of a contempt citation for unpaid child support, asserting that Louth had stopped paying child support in April 2020 and owed her $8,400.

The court set a combined hearing for April 2021 on the contempt citation and on Louth’s motion to modify. It also ordered the parties to provide disclosures at least seven days before the hearing and directed Louth to file his financial materials at his earliest opportunity.

In January 2021, Louth’s ex-wife moved to compel disclosures and discovery, noting that Louth had failed to comply with the court’s earlier disclosure orders. At the April 2021 hearing, as Louth was set to present his case, his ex-wife objected to addressing child support issues based on his repeated failure to file financial disclosures. She also moved for sanctions. The court granted her motion for sanctions, dismissed Louth’s motion to modify, opined that Louth had “stonewalled” the issue of his finances and found Louth in remedial contempt for his failure to pay child support between April 2020 and April 2021. A few months later, Louth paid the full arrearage amount to his ex-wife.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Louth’s stipulation to discipline and publicly censured him, effective Feb. 1.

People v. Daniel Lawrence Mauk

Daniel Mauk represented two clients in an employment dispute against their former employer, a medical practice. As a sixth-year associate, he filed the complaint in June 2018 but didn’t notify his clients of their duty to preserve evidence until more than a week thereafter. The opposing party counterclaimed that Mauk’s clients misappropriated trade secrets. 

Mauk included in initial disclosures all documents he received from his clients at that time but didn’t disclose the existence of documents that he knew his clients had obtained while working for the opposing party. When the opposing party requested the evidence during discovery, Mauk made misleading statements regarding the location of the materials and his clients’ ability to acquire and produce them. Further, although he knew that his clients’ new employer had control of the materials, he didn’t attempt to obtain them.

Meanwhile, his clients hadn’t fully disclosed certain evidence to him, including hand-written patient lists created by one of his clients and subsequently shredded; a spreadsheet in which the client’s wife input data from the patient lists; and “lost” emails from a deactivated account belonging to his other client. When Mauk learned of the deactivated account, he didn’t attempt to determine if the emails were recoverable. He also didn’t disclose the matter until the opposing party confronted him after it received third-party discovery containing emails from the account. Though he said that the account was deactivated before litigation, records from the account provider suggested the service was disconnected after litigation was underway.

The opposing party eventually moved for discovery sanctions. Following a sanctions hearing, the court apportioned $1.2 million in liability to Mauk, his co-counsel and his clients. Judgment entered against Mauk and his co-counsel, who were jointly and severally liable for more than $1.2 million, of which they shared a portion jointly and severally with their clients. Mauk has since settled with the opposing party, personally contributing to the settlement amount.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Mauk’s stipulation to discipline and suspended him for six months, all to be stayed upon the successful completion of a one-year period of probation, with conditions. The probation took effect Jan. 21.

People v. Elle J. Byram

Elle Byram represented a client in a post-decree dispute. In that case, the client’s former husband was permitted to offset his child support obligations against a remaining balance of attorney’s fees that had earlier been awarded to him. In early 2020, he moved to modify dependent exemption orders, asking the court to order Byram’s client to amend her 2019 tax returns so that he could claim their children as dependents on his taxes. The court required Byram’s client to reimburse her former husband for the lost tax benefits associated with claiming the children as dependents. The reimbursement was to be offset against the former husband’s future child support obligations. In April 2020, Byram and opposing counsel discussed alternate resolutions by email; they reached an agreement in principle but couldn’t reach full agreement, and they never filed a stipulation to resolve the matter.

At the end of September 2020, Byram informed opposing counsel that child support hadn’t been paid for that month; opposing counsel responded that child support was offset until the 2019 tax exemption reimbursement had been recouped. Byram then filed an unopposed motion to modify dependent exemption orders, which was a draft of the motion that counsel had discussed in spring 2020 and to which Byram believed opposing counsel had agreed. At the time, Byram believed that the parties had reached a full agreement and that she had forgotten to file the motion in April 2020. Byram failed to confirm, however, that opposing counsel didn’t oppose the motion, which contained no certificate of conferral. The court granted the unopposed motion in less than one business day. When opposing counsel promptly contacted Byram to register his opposition, she acknowledged that the filing was a mistake and that her representation of the motion as unopposed was untrue. She vowed to correct the misstatements, but she didn’t do so timely do so. Accordingly, several weeks later opposing counsel responded to the filing, asked to set aside the court’s order and moved to sanction Byram personally. Byram then filed a motion to enforce the order, believing that the relief she had obtained was appropriate. Ultimately, the order was vacated, judgment was entered against Byram and her client and Byram paid most of the award herself.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Byram’s stipulation to discipline and suspended her for sixty days, all to be stayed upon the successful completion of a one-year conditional probation, effective Jan. 31.

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