Court Opinions: Presiding Disciplinary Judge Opinions for July 2021

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

People v. Robert E. Abrams

In June 2019, Robert E. Abrams represented a client in her dissolution of marriage case. By August, Abram’s client could no longer pay him. He agreed not to withdraw if his client signed an attorney’s lien against her equity in the marital home. A lawyer at Abrams’s firm drafted an agreement purporting to be an attorney’s lien that secured all future fees, costs, interests and late charges against the title to the home. The client signed the agreement. Abrams didn’t obtain his client’s written and informed consent to his role in the transaction or advise her to seek independent legal counsel before entering the agreement. After filing a notice of attorney’s lien with the court, Abrams recorded the agreement as an attorney’s lien with the county clerk and recorder’s office. 

In October, the court issued permanent orders in the case and divided the responsibility for Abrams’s fees between his client and the other party. Under the order, the other party was to submit payment for Abrams’s fees to his client rather than to him directly. Soon after, Abrams moved to withdraw except as to fee collection, notifying the court that he recorded the attorney’s lien. In February 2020, he asked the court to amend the permanent orders to allow him to collect his fees directly from the other party and to reduce the order to judgment. The court denied the motion and noted that Abrams’s firm had an attorney’s lien it could enforce. 

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In July, Abrams sought an order to reduce the attorney’s lien to a judgment, asking for an amount that exceeded the fees addressed in the court’s permanent orders. Abrams’s client and opposing counsel objected, and the court set the matter for a hearing in October 2020. But two weeks before the hearing, Abrams’s client and her ex-husband sold the marital home. The title company contacted Abrams about the recorded lien and paid his firm, even though there was no ruling from the court on his motion to reduce the lien to a judgment. Although the money paid on the lien was in dispute, Abrams didn’t deposit the funds from the title company into his trust account pending the court’s ruling. At the hearing, Abrams’s counsel told the court that the matter was resolved because the marital home was sold and Abrams’s firm was paid in full. Relying on those representations, the court stated that the matter was concluded, in essence granting Abrams’s motion without actually entering a judgment in his favor. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Abrams’ conditional admission of misconduct and publicly censured Abrams. The public censure took effect July 16, 2021. 

People v. Christopher W. Alber

In September 2020, while under stress from personal and family health issues, Christopher W. Alber submitted billing to his firm that included entries for 88.7 hours of work he hadn’t completed. The entries were “prebills” that were not sent to the firm’s clients, and no clients were charged for work he had not done. The firm fired Alber after discovering the billing entries. Upon leaving the firm, he self-reported his conduct to disciplinary authorities. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Alber’s conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Alber for nine months, all to be stayed upon the successful completion of a two-year period of conditional probation. The probation took effect June 29, 2021. 

People v. George M. Allen

Beginning in 2017, George M. Allen represented members of a family and their closely-held corporation in litigation brought by another shareholder. But Allen didn’t provide his clients with a written fee agreement when he started the representation. During the litigation, Allen’s clients developed conflicting interests, but he didn’t obtain their written informed consent to continue the representation. He also failed to correct a statement of material fact included in a court filing after that statement was no longer true. 

Allen represented another client in multiple legal proceedings despite having a close personal relationship with her, which created a conflict of interest. Allen also provided the client financial assistance while her cases were ongoing. In one of the proceedings, the court dismissed the case and sanctioned Allen after finding that the claims he asserted were frivolous and vexatious. A court in another proceeding disqualified Allen from representing his client because he was likely to be a necessary witness. In a third case for the client — a criminal matter — he failed to exercise reasonable diligence and promptness. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Allen’s conditional admission of misconduct and suspended him for two years. The suspension takes effect on Aug. 2, 2021. To be reinstated, Allen must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has complied with disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law. 

People v. Philip M. Bluestein

Philip M. Bluestein engaged in misconduct in several client matters. In one matter, the client submitted an initial retainer twice by mistake. Bluestein wasn’t aware of the mistake due to bookkeeping deficiencies, and both retainer payments were deposited directly into his trust account. The balance in Bluestein’s trust account thereafter dropped below the amount of funds he should have been safeguarding for the client. A few weeks after the client retained Bluestein, she began contacting him, concerned that her work wasn’t completed. She terminated the representation and requested a refund and an accounting. Bluestein was delayed in returning the remaining funds due to family health issues. When he compiled the final accounting, he discovered the client paid the retainer twice. He returned all of the client’s funds to her, even the funds he earned. 

In another matter, Bluestein provided the client with general advice and completed some work on the matter, but he neither completed the work nor sent it to the client. The client eventually demanded he provide the completed work or a full refund. Bluestein did not timely respond, and the client terminated the representation. 

In a third matter, a client provided Bluestein an advance retainer, which Bluestein deposited into his operating account at the outset of the representation. But Bluestein’s work on the matter was delayed, and the client was unhappy about his lack of progress. Bluestein eventually completed the work to the client’s satisfaction. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Bluestein’s conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Bluestein, effective June 28, 2021. 

People v. James Frazier

In 2019, James Frazier was suspended from the practice of law for one year, with four months to be served and eight months to be stayed upon the successful completion of a two-year probation. Frazier was reinstated, subject to probation, on June 3, 2020. The terms of his probation included a requirement that he work with a practice monitor. 

After a hearing held under C.R.C.P. 251.7(e), the Presiding Disciplinary Judge determined that Frazier violated the terms of his probation when he failed to satisfy his practice monitoring condition. 

On June 16, 2021, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge issued an order revoking Frazier’s two-year probation, vacating the stay on an eight-month period of suspension and suspending him for eight months. The suspension took effect June 30, 2021. 

People v. Paul Gordon

Paul Gordon agreed to defend a married couple in litigation with their former lawyer related to disputes about attorney’s fees and billing. Gordon’s flat fee agreement covered the defense but didn’t include a counterclaim the couple wished to bring for legal malpractice. Gordon then offered to handle the counterclaim for an additional sum and the couple’s agreement to pay costs of an expert witness after he explained the need for one. Later on, Gordon decided not to obtain an expert to support either the defense theory or the counterclaim, but he didn’t explain to the clients his new strategy. Gordon also didn’t prepare a confidential mediation statement in advance of mediation. He didn’t adequately communicate with his clients about their discovery responses, nor did he follow through with them about deficiencies in those responses. When the opposing party moved to compel discovery, Gordon counseled his clients not to attend a hearing on the motion. Gordon didn’t adequately advise his clients of the waiver effect that filing a malpractice action would have on their attorney-client privilege with the lawyer subject to that action. 

In a separate action for the same clients, Gordon negotiated a settlement offer. The clients didn’t respond to the offer on the eve of a pretrial conference. Gordon didn’t appear for the conference, and the court noted that the clients failed to appear. Thereafter, Gordon stopped tracking the case because he believed that one of the clients, who is a lawyer, was handling the matter. Opposing counsel filed a proposed order for final judgment, but Gordon assured his clients that they did not need to take any action. The court then entered judgment against the clients. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Gordon’s stipulation to discipline and suspended him for six months, all stayed upon successful completion of a two-year conditional probation to take effect Aug. 19, 2021. 

People v. Ian Trevor Hicks

In April 2019, Ian Trevor Hicks began representing a client with whom he was recently sexually involved. Hicks and his client entered into a fee agreement, after which they no longer had a physical relationship. The client paid Hicks a retainer, but Hicks never completed any work for his client. In 2020, the client fired Hicks, and he ultimately refunded all of her fees. 

In another matter, a client hired Hicks in November 2019 to pursue an action against a car dealership. They signed a fee agreement, and the client paid Hicks a retainer. Hicks didn’t communicate with his client until January 2020, when his client asked about the status of the case. Hicks told his client he would file a complaint that month, but he failed to do so. The client wanted to end the representation, but Hicks offered him a discount and assured him that the complaint would be filed the next week. Hicks never filed the complaint and he didn’t communicate with his client until June 2020, at which time his client fired him. Hicks refunded the client’s money. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Hicks’ conditional admission of misconduct and publicly censured him with the condition that Hicks attend a one-day ethics school. The public censure took effect July 15, 2021. 

People v. Richard A. Howieson

In January 2021, Richard A. Howieson pleaded guilty in Jefferson County District Court to a class 6 felony of obscenity – promotion to a minor. He was convicted for exchanging messages with a Jefferson County detective posing as a 14-year-old girl on messaging apps Kik and Whisper. During those exchanges, Howieson sent a nude photo of himself and agreed to meet his interlocutor the same day. Howieson drove to the meeting place, where he was arrested by Jefferson County Sheriff’s officers and charged with internet sexual exploitation of a child. That count was dismissed when Howieson pleaded guilty to obscenity — promotion to minor. 

On March 23, 2021, Howieson was sentenced to four years of probation with conditions, including successful completion of offense-specific treatment, completion of a substance abuse evaluation and treatment, total abstinence from illegal substances, adult sex offender conditions, compliance with Colorado Computer Use Agreement, maintenance of full-time verifiable employment, payment of restitution, maintenance of a stable residence, and registration as a sex offender. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Howieson’s stipulation to discipline and suspended Howieson for 18 months, effective July 21, 2021. To be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado, Howieson must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is rehabilitated, has complied with all applicable disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law. 

People v. Molly Falk Jansen

In March 2019, Molly Falk Jansen signed a written flat fee agreement with the parents of a client charged in two separate criminal cases. Under the agreement, Jansen would earn 25% of the fee at four progressive stages of the representation. Jansen required immediate payment to begin representation in the two cases. So, the day after entering the fee agreement, the client’s parents paid Jansen $30,000 in two transactions of $15,000. Jansen treated all of the money as earned before meeting any of the benchmarks of the fee agreement, however, though she did eventually meet them. 

In a separate matter, the father of one of Jansen’s former clients posted a negative review of her services on her website. She responded to the posting with statements — including references to confidential communications with her client and information learned from the representation — that contained identifying details about her client. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Jansen’s conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Jansen for six months. The suspension takes effect Sept. 1, 2021. 

People v. Mark Gregory Lukehart

Following an appearance by Mark Gregory Lukehart under C.R.C.P. 251.29(j), the Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the stipulation and reinstated Lukehart to the practice of law, effective July 6, 2021. 

The parties agreed that Lukehart was rehabilitated, complied with disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law. No opinion was issued.

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