Court Opinions: Presiding Disciplinary Judge Opinions for June 23

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

People v. Wendy S. Owens

This reciprocal discipline case arose from discipline imposed upon Wendy Owens in Wyoming. On June 8, 2022, the Wyoming Supreme Court adopted the report and recommendation of the Wyoming State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility and publicly censured Owens. The report and recommendation were based on a stipulation between the Wyoming State Bar and Owens, who stipulated to violating Wyoming Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(a) and 1.3 by failing to file objections to an opposing party’s filings contrary to her client’s instruction.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Owens’ stipulation to reciprocal discipline and publicly censured Owens, effective June 23.

People v. Lucette Brenna Laffoon

In August 2019, a husband and wife hired Lucette Laffoon to assist with the husband’s immigration matter. The husband signed a flat fee agreement that identified the scope of representation as “FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] and Adjustment of Status.” According to the disciplinary opinion, though the clients’ matter was not unusually complex, the total fee was set at $10,000 comprising a retainer of $2,500 and monthly payments of $600. The fee agreement didn’t contain benchmarks specifying how Laffoon would earn fees before the representation ended. It also didn’t set forth a method of calculating Laffoon’s earned fees if the representation ended before meeting the clients’ goal.

Around December 2019 or January 2020, Laffoon began working on an I-130 petition and an I-130A supplement for the matter. Concurrent with that work, Laffoon partially completed an I-601A waiver for the husband. She also filed a FOIA request with immigration authorities in September 2020. Meanwhile, the clients paid Laffoon a total of $9,100 toward her fee between August 2019 and November 2020, at which time they stopped making payments and Laffoon began moving their funds to her operating account. But Laffoon’s staff didn’t successfully file the I-130 petition and the I-130A supplement until January 2022. According to the disciplinary opinion, the documents contained several errors, omissions or inconsistent information, but the petition was ultimately approved.

Laffoon’s office filed the petition and supplement one day after receiving notice from another lawyer the clients had hired the lawyer to take over their case. Laffoon provided the clients’ file to the lawyer but didn’t include copies of the petition, the supplement, the filing receipt from immigration authorities or the incomplete I-601A waiver. After the lawyer informed Laffoon the clients believed a refund was owed, Laffoon transferred the clients’ remaining funds — $3,000 — to her operating account.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Laffoon’s amended stipulation to discipline and suspended her for one year and one day, all to be stayed upon Laffoon’s successful completion of a two-year probation, which took effect June 23. According to the disciplinary opinion, the sanction takes into account restitution and significant mitigating factors and acknowledges Laffoon’s efforts to address her misconduct.

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