Court Opinions: Presiding Disciplinary Judge Opinions for January 2022

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

People v. James Stanton Margulis

In five cases, James Margulis didn’t diligently handle his clients’ matters when he failed to attend court hearings or appearances, failed to file motions and failed to communicate with the tribunals about the status of the cases. His conduct resulted in significant delays to the proceedings. In one of those cases, Margulis disobeyed a court order that he appear in person, resulting in the initiation of a separate contempt case. 

In three other cases, Margulis didn’t complete the work for which he was hired, and he failed to place the clients’ retainers in his trust account. Instead, he treated the clients’ retainers as his property even though he knew he hadn’t earned the funds. He also failed to promptly return the retainer funds to his clients. And in one of these cases, Margulis didn’t appear for meetings with the client and didn’t reasonably communicate with the client, precluding the client from making informed decisions about the representation. 

In one other client matter, Margulis accepted a check on his client’s behalf, yet his client never received the check, which hasn’t cleared on the account from which it was drawn. 

In his own criminal case, Margulis pleaded guilty in July 2020 to driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, and possession of a scheduled substance, a class-one drug misdemeanor charge. Margulis agreed to a sentence of eighteen months of supervised probation, with conditions. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Margulis’ stipulation to discipline and disbarred him, effective Jan. 11.

People v. David I. Levy

In July 2018, a client retained David Levy to represent her in claims arising from two separate motor vehicle accidents. Levy didn’t seek authorization from the client to make settlement demands, nor did he pursue demands against any of the potentially liable insurers. Only in December 2020 did he file a complaint concerning the accidents. He didn’t allow his client the opportunity to review the complaint before or after he filed it, and the two defendants he named in the complaint did not include the individual whom his client had asserted was responsible for the first accident. Levy didn’t arrange for service of the summons or the complaint on the defendants in the case. In January and March 2021, the court issued two orders, but Levy didn’t tell his client about the orders or respond to them, and the court dismissed the case without prejudice for failure to prosecute.

Meanwhile, in March 2021, Levy stipulated with disciplinary authorities to his immediate transfer to disability inactive status. The order transferring Levy to disability inactive status directed him to file an affidavit verifying that he notified his clients and the courts in which he had pending matters that he’d been placed on disability inactive status and that he could no longer represent clients. Though Levy knew of the order, he didn’t inform his client or the court about the matter, and he didn’t timely file the required affidavit. In late April 2021, Levy’s client learned that her case had been dismissed after she retained new counsel, who successfully moved the court to set aside the order dismissing her case.

In a separate matter, Levy violated a permanent protection order when he emailed two parties protected by the order. Levy again violated the protection order when he later texted one of the parties. At a contempt hearing in February 2021, a court found Levy in indirect contempt for disobeying the protection order; Levy was later sentenced and served three days in jail. On the day following the contempt hearing, Levy again disobeyed the protection order when he emailed the two protected parties. Two days later, he sent another email to one of the parties, who reported the matter to law enforcement. In April 2021, law enforcement arrested Levy; he was charged with violating a protection order, a class 2 misdemeanor.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Levy’s stipulation to discipline and suspended him for one year and one day. To be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado, Levy must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has complied with all disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law. The suspension took effect Dec. 22, 2021.

People v. Jeremy Ray Shufflebarger

In August 2019, Jeremy Shufflebarger accepted a $1,000 retainer to represent a client in her parental rights matter. In October 2019, Shufflebarger moved to modify his client’s parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. After he filed the motion, Shufflebarger and his client discussed requesting the appointment of a child and family investigator in the matter. But he didn’t move for the appointment, and he failed to set the modification proceeding for mediation or a hearing as required by the court’s case management order. Shufflebarger’s final communication with his client was around mid-December 2019. 

During the next two months, his client requested updates about her case, but he didn’t respond. In late February 2020, the court dismissed the motion to modify without prejudice for failure to prosecute. Shufflebarger didn’t read the order dismissing the motion and didn’t send a copy to his client. In August 2020, the client fired him and requested an accounting of her retainer funds. He provided the accounting and a refund of the unearned retainer as part of the disciplinary investigation.

Shufflebarger was experiencing professional and personal issues during the representation of his former client. The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Shufflebarger’s stipulation to discipline and suspended him for ninety days, all to be stayed upon the successful completion of a two-year period of probation effective Jan. 12, with conditions. As conditions of his probation, he must attend an ethics class and seek counseling. As restitution, he must refund the full amount of his former client’s retainer. 

People v. Christopher Throssel

Christopher Throssel destroyed his ex-wife’s phone during an argument with her, after which she attempted to call 911 on a second phone before Throssel took it away. Throssel’s ex-wife placed another call to 911 while sheltering in a bedroom with one of the children she shared with Throssel. After law enforcement responded, Throssel’s ex-wife reported a separate incident, telling police officers that Throssel had grabbed her by her hair during a recent argument, dragged her down a set of stairs, and strangled her until she lost consciousness. 

In May 2021, Throssel pled guilty to criminal mischief as an act of domestic violence. Throssel was separately charged for the strangulation, pled guilty to a third-degree assault as an act of domestic violence and received a deferred judgment. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Throssel’s stipulation to discipline and suspended him for six months, effective Dec. 28, 2021.

People v. Douglas Leo Romero

In 2019, Douglas Romero recklessly mismanaged more than $16,000 that he had secured on behalf of his client and that he should’ve held in trust for the benefit of two children under his client’s legal guardianship. Romero didn’t maintain a ledger or other recordkeeping system to track the children’s money. On multiple occasions, his trust account balances dropped well below the amount he should have held to safeguard the children’s funds as well as money belonging to other clients. At one point, Romero’s accountant discovered a shortfall in the trust accounts of approximately $34,000, which Romero replenished from personal funds. But because of his poor recordkeeping, neither his accountant nor disciplinary authorities were able to trace what became of the missing money.

A hearing board suspended Romero for two years. The suspension took effect on Dec. 28, 2021 and runs concurrently with his suspension in case number 18PDJ063. To be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado, Romero must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has complied with all disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law.

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