VIRGINIA:



BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD



IN THE MATTER OF MAC ANDRES CHAMBERS



VSB DOCKET NO. 01-080-1334

01-080-2630

02-080-0247



ORDER OF SUSPENSION



This matter came to be heard on July 24, 2002 upon an Agreed Disposition between the Virginia State Bar and the Respondent, Mac Andres Chambers.

A duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board consisting of Peter A. Dingman, Esq., Richard J. Colten, Esq., H. Taylor Williams, IV, Esq., Theophlise L. Twitty, Esq., and Karen A. Gould, Esq., 2nd Vice-Chair, presiding, considered the matter by telephone conference. The Respondent, Mac Andres Chambers, appeared with his counsel, William H. Lindsey, Esq. Edward L. Davis, Assistant Bar Counsel, appeared on behalf of the Virginia State Bar.

It is the decision of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board to accept the Agreed Disposition. The Stipulations of Fact, Disciplinary Rule Violations, and Disposition agreed to by the Virginia State Bar, the Respondent and his counsel are incorporated herein as follows:

 

I. STIPULATIONS OF FACT


1. During all times relevant hereto, the Respondent, Mac Andres Chambers, was an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

VSB Docket No. 01-080-1334, Complainant: Dawn C. Forehand


2. On April 20, 1999, the Circuit Court for Botetourt County sentenced Bradley Purcell to eighteen years in the state penitentiary, with nine suspended, on his pleas of nolo contendere to charges of armed robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The court noted certain aggravating factors, and imposed a sentence that was outside of the recommended sentencing guideline range. On May 18, 1999, Mr. Purcell's trial defense counsel noted an appeal.

3. On May 10, 1999, Mr. Purcell's mother, Dawn C. Forehand, met with Mr. Chambers to discuss the case. He quoted an advance fee of $1,000 to investigate and appeal the matter. Thereafter, on May 12, 1999, she sent Mr. Chambers a check in the amount of $1,000. She annotated "Brad's appeal" on the check. Mr. Chambers received the check on May 17, 1999.

4. On May 18, 1999, Mr. Chambers mailed a notice of appeal, not knowing that Mr. Purcell's prior counsel had already filed one the same day. He also ordered the hearing transcripts, and paid a deposit. Finally, the same day, he filed an order relieving Purcells' prior counsel, and substituting himself in his stead. The court entered the order on May 24, 1999.

5. Mr. Chambers determined that a motion to reduce or modify Purcell's sentence was the best option, and informed Ms. Forehand. On June 7, 1999, Mr. Chambers filed a motion to withdraw his notice of appeal. On June 14, 1999, he paid the balance of the costs of the transcript.

6. Thereafter, Mr. Chambers took no further action in the matter until June 23, 1999, when he filed a motion for a hearing in the circuit court to reduce or modify Mr. Purcell's sentence, in accordance with Virginia Code Section 19-303. The one-page motion alleged that there were circumstances in mitigation of the offense, but said nothing further. It did not ask the court to hear the matter before Mr. Purcell's transfer to the Department of Corrections, or to delay the transfer pending a hearing. Mr. Chambers took no action to schedule a hearing in the circuit court or to delay a transfer to the Department of Corrections pending the court's consideration of his motion. The court never set the matter for hearing.

7. Seven days later, on June 30, 1999, Mr. Purcell was transferred to the Department of Corrections, depriving the circuit court of the authority to reduce or modify his sentence. Mr. Chambers having withdrawn his appeal, Mr. Purcell was also deprived of the opportunity to appeal his case, the deadline for noting an appeal having run. Mr. Chambers did not refund any of the $1,000 fee, but presented Ms. Forehand with a bill for an additional $366.50.

 

VSB Docket No. 01-080-2630, Complainant: Linda Crowder


8. Linda Crowder was working at the Richfield Nursing Center on March 28, 1996 when she injured her upper back and neck. On April 2, 1996, she was injured again while helping a patient in her room. She filed an appropriate worker's compensation claim.

9. By notice, dated August 27, 1996, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission approved an Award Order giving Ms. Crowder $140 weekly, during incapacity, beginning April 2, 1996. The notice read further, "medical benefits are awarded for as long as necessary."

10. On February 6, 1997, the Virginia Reciprocal Group offered Ms. Crowder a lump sum settlement. Believing that the proposal was unfair, Ms. Crowder rejected it.

11. On May 13, 1997, Ms. Crowder saw Dr. Murray E. Joiner, who reported that her neck pain was related to a prior condition of fibromyalgia, not the accidents. As a result of this report, on May 30, 1997, Jenny Newton of the Reciprocal Group wrote to Ms. Crowder. She advised her that the insurer would provide no further benefits voluntarily because her pain appeared to be unrelated to her 1996 injuries.

12. After receiving this letter, Ms. Crowder went to see Mr. Chambers in June 1997. Mr. Chambers told her that he thought that she had a meritorious case, and that she should have a hearing before the Workers Compensation Commission. He said that he would handle the details and let her know when he had arranged a hearing. Mr. Chambers never arranged a hearing.

13. Ms. Crowder continued to see Dr. Joiner. On July 1, 1997, he reported that no further intervention or testing relating to her 1996 injuries were necessary, and that she had improved beyond her baseline level of function. Accordingly, Ms. Newton wrote to Ms. Crowder again on July 21, 1997, explaining that Ms. Crowder's work related injuries were resolved as of June 10, 1997, and asking her to submit any medical billings for treatment after June 10 to her employer.

14. In January 1998, Ms. Crowder saw Dr. Timothy Hormel at the Lewis Gale Clinic in Salem, Virginia. She had an MRI examination, and Dr. Hormel determined that she had a "cervical disc." He recommended to the Richfield nursing center that Ms. Crowder not lift anything greater than five pounds in front of her, or a maximum of ten pounds to waist height.

15. The Virginia Reciprocal Group then hired Dr. Steven Nack to evaluate Ms. Crowder. On March 2, 1998 and March 4, 1998, he sent letters to Jenny Newton of the Reciprocal Group detailing his evaluation. He said that Ms. Crowder's current complaints did not relate to her 1996 accidents, that he saw no reason why she could not continue with regular work duties, and that the findings of the MRI were not related to Ms. Crowder's 1996 accidents.

16. Since one of her doctors recommended surgery, Ms. Crowder had it done on July 31, 1998. With no workers compensation benefits, she had to borrow money to pay part of the bill.

17. In February 1999, unable to reach Mr. Chambers, and having not heard anything from him other than that he would check on the case, Ms. Crowder contacted attorney Jeffrey Dorsey, President of the Salem Bar Association, for assistance. Mr. Dorsey contacted Mr. Chambers several times before Mr. Chambers contacted Ms. Crowder. They met in March 1999, and Mr. Chambers apologized for keeping the case on the back burner. He said that he would make it his main priority, and that she would have a hearing in June or July 1999.

18. By letter, dated April 12, 1999, Mr. Chambers noted his appearance with the Workers Compensation Commission, and asked it to schedule a hearing regarding Ms. Crowder's ongoing unpaid medical bills relating to her 1996 injuries. On April 23, 1999, the Commission wrote him back, requesting copies of the bills and related medical information. Mr. Chambers did not respond.

19. On May 24, 1999, Ramesh Murthy of the Abingdon law firm of Penn Stuart sent, by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, Employers First Set of Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents to Mr. Chambers. On May 26, 1999, Mr. Chambers' assistant, disbarred attorney Steven Hebblethwaite, delivered them to Ms. Crowder. Ms. Crowder processed and returned them to Mr. Chambers' assistant on June 10, 1999. Thereafter, Mr. Chambers did not return the documents to Penn Stuart. When Ms. Crowder inquired about the interrogatories, Mr. Chambers said that he could not locate her file, that he would look for it at his home, and contact her. He never contacted Ms. Crowder again.

20. On June 24, 1999, the Commission wrote to Mr. Chambers again, explaining that it had not received a response to its prior letter, and that it would take no further action unless it received the requested information within twenty days. Mr. Chambers did not respond, and took no further action in the matter.

21. On July 13, 2001, Mr. Chambers provided a copy of Ms. Crowder's file to the Virginia State Bar Investigator. The file contained nothing other than medical records. Mr. Chambers explained that there may be additional records at his home, but that he was going through a divorce, and could not enter his home. He explained later that his spouse said that there were no files there. He also said that his former assistant, Mr. Hebblethwaite, may have taken some files. He said that he terminated Mr. Hebblethwaite, and wrote to him on June 1, 2001, asking him to return any files he had, but that he did not respond. He provided the investigator a copy of the letter; however, the letter made no demand on Mr. Hebblethwaite for files, and did not mention files.

 

VSB Docket No. 02-080-0247, Complainant: Cheryl Lynn Chapman


22. On May 23, 1996, Cheryl Lynn Chapman and her two daughters, Jessica and Barbara, were injured in a traffic accident. The accident was the result of a chain reaction caused by a second driver, Wimmer, colliding with a third driver, Watkins, who collided with Ms. Chapman's automobile. On May 24, 1996, Ms. Chapman and her husband hired Mr. Chambers to represent them with respect to the injuries sustained by Ms. Chapman and their two daughters.

23. Watkins was insured by Nationwide Insurance and Wimmer by State Farm. On June 6, 1996, the Nationwide claims department advised Mr. Chambers of its determination that Watkins was not liable, that he had been struck by Wimmer, and driven into Ms. Chapman's vehicle. State Farm, however, the insurer for Wimmer, paid the Chapman's vehicular damage claim of $1,225.

24. By letter dated October 29, 1996, claims agent Bentley Martin of State Farm advised Mr. Chambers that he had received his letter of representation, and that he would be the agent handling the claim against Wimmer. He requested that Mr. Chambers provide all pertinent medical information and records relating to the Chapmans' injuries. He enclosed an authorization to release medical information, and asked Mr. Chambers to return it. Mr. Chambers did not respond to the letter, and never provided the requested information. He never sent a demand package to State Farm either. For these reasons, according to Martin, State Farm never attempted to settle the matter with Mr. Chambers.

25. Mr. Chambers' case file reflects no further activity until the following year when, on May 21, 1997, he sent assignments to a law firm in Lynchburg, Virginia. The law firm was filing suit against Mrs. Chapman for unpaid medical bills from the Village Family Physicians of Moneta, Virginia. The unpaid medical bills were for treatment that Mrs. Chapman and her daughters received because of the accident. The assignments provided a share of any recovery in the case to the firm.

26. Mr. Chambers' file reflects no further activity until 1998 when, on March 11, 1998, ten weeks before the statute of limitations ran, he wrote to the Village Family Physicians and Oasis Chiropractic of Roanoke, asking for complete medical reports. Mr. Chambers' file also contained a message, dated May 20, 1998, saying that Mary Tipton of State Farm called and indicated that State Farm accepted full responsibility. On May 20, 1998, State Farm tendered $300 as settlement for the injuries sustained by Jessica Chapman. The Chapmans accepted the offer.

27. On May 22, 1998, Mr. Chambers filed a motion for judgement against both Watkins and Wimmer, praying for $900,000 in damages. This was the day before the statute of limitations would run. The motion prayed for service on State Farm and Nationwide, but not the defendants, Watkins and Wimmer. Mr. Chambers sent a copy to State Farm's Bentley Martin, saying, "I have not, at this time, requested service upon the defendants because I am in hopes that we can resolve these matters amicably."

28. On August 25, 1998, Mr. Martin sent a message to Mr. Chambers by facsimile, indicating that Mrs. Chapman was involved in another accident on June 18, 1997. He asked Mr. Chambers to provide bills and records relating to this accident. Mr. Chambers did not respond to the message.

29. Mr. Chambers failed to have the motion for judgement served on the defendants within one year, in accordance with Rule 3:3 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Accordingly, on December 2, 1999, John Cook of Nationwide filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of Watkins. Mr. Cook also filed interrogatories and a request for the production of documents. Mr. Chambers did not respond.

30. On January 13, 2000, Mr. Cook filed a Notice of Hearing on his Motion to Dismiss for January 28, 2000. On January 21, 2000, he filed a Motion to Compel because of Mr. Chambers' failure to respond to the interrogatories and motion for the production of documents. He sent copies to Mr. Chambers by facsimile on January 24, 2000.

31. In January 2000, Kristine Smith, counsel for Wimmer, also filed a Special Appearance Motion to Dismiss for failure to serve Wimmer within one year.

32. On January 29, 2000, Mr. Chambers filed a copy of the Motion for Judgement with the circuit court, asking it to serve the defendants, Wimmer and State Farm. On January 31, 2000, Mr. Cook sent him an order dismissing the case against Watkins with prejudice, which Mr. Chambers endorsed and returned. The court entered the order on March 7, 2000.

33. With respect to Wimmer, Mr. Chambers claimed that he had an agreement with State Farm not to serve Wimmer. There was no evidence of any such agreement, however, and State Farm denied it. Mr. Chambers alleged that a certain State Farm attorney made the agreement. This attorney, however, worked in a different State Farm office and was not involved in the case.

32. On September 27, 2000, Mr. Chambers delivered a motion for a nonsuit to Smith and to the court by hand. The court denied his motion the same day, indicating that it had already ruled on all issues before it. It also granted Smith's motion to dismiss the case against Wimmer with prejudice. Because of this, Mrs. Chapman and her daughter were forever deprived of any opportunity to recover from Wimmer or State Farm, although State Farm had acknowledged liability.

33. Mr. Chambers explained to the Virginia State Bar Investigator that he did not attempt to negotiate a settlement with State Farm, and that State Farm never made any offers after he sent the motion for judgement. Mrs. Chapman complained that he did not return her calls, and that upon her case being dismissed, he offered to file a bankruptcy for her at no charge. Mr. Chambers said that he had no excuse for not returning Ms. Chapman's calls.



II. DISCIPLINARY RULE VIOLATIONS



The parties agree that the aforementioned facts give rise to violations of the following Disciplinary Rules:



DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.


(A) A lawyer shall undertake representation only in matters in which:

(1) The lawyer can act with competence and demonstrate the specific legal knowledge, skill, efficiency, and thoroughness in preparation employed in acceptable practice by lawyers undertaking similar matters, or

(2) The lawyer has associated with another lawyer who is competent in those matters.


(B) A lawyer shall attend promptly to matters undertaken for a client until completed or until the lawyer has properly and completely withdrawn from representing the client.


(C) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about matters in which the lawyer's services are being rendered.


(D) A lawyer shall inform his client of facts pertinent to the matter and of communications from another party that may significantly affect settlement or resolution of the matter.


In Case Number 02-080-0247, with respect to any misconduct occurring after January 1, 2000, counsel agree that the facts give rise to violations of the following Rules of Professional Conduct, in addition to the Disciplinary Rules cited above:



RULE 1.1 Competence

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.



RULE 1.3 Diligence

(a) A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.



RULE 1.4 Communication

(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

(c) A lawyer shall inform the client of facts pertinent to the matter and of communications from another party that may significantly affect settlement or resolution of the matter.



III. DISPOSITION


Upon consideration of the Stipulations of Fact and Disciplinary Rule violations, and the comments of counsel, the Board accepts the agreed upon sanction. Accordingly, the Respondent's license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia is hereby suspended for a period of two (2) years, with one (1) year of the said suspension suspended for a period of two (2) years (a net active suspension of his license to practice law for one (1) year) to begin October 1, 2002, subject to the following terms and conditions:

1. The Respondent, Mac Andres Chambers, agrees to be placed on probation for a period of two (2) years, said period to begin the date that the Board enters an Order accepting this Agreed Disposition. Mr. Chambers will engage in no professional misconduct as defined by the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct during such two-year probationary period. Any final determination of misconduct determined by any District Committee of the Virginia State Bar, the Disciplinary Board, or a three-judge court to have occurred during such period will be deemed a violation of the terms and conditions of this Agreed Disposition and will result in the imposition of the full one-year suspension of his license to practice law as an alternate sanction. The alternate sanction will not be imposed while Mr. Chambers is appealing any adverse decision which might result in a probation violation.

2. The Respondent will continue to comply with the terms and conditions previously imposed by the Eighth District Committee in Case Numbers 00-080-0491 (the Janis Golding complaint), 01-080-0087 (the Pamela Reyes complaint), and 01-080-0970 (the McConnell complaint). If the Eighth District Committee finds, in accordance with the terms of these dispositions, that Mr. Chambers has, during the period of probation, failed to comply with any of the terms or conditions of these dispositions without legal justification or excuse, then he shall be in violation of the terms of this Agreed Disposition as well.


The imposition of the alternate sanction will not require a hearing before the Board on the

underlying charges of misconduct stipulated herein if the Virginia State Bar discovers that the Respondent has violated any of the foregoing terms and conditions. Instead, the Virginia State Bar shall issue and serve upon the Respondent a Notice of Hearing to Show Cause why the alternate sanction should not be imposed. The sole factual issue will be whether the Respondent has violated the terms of this Agreed Disposition without legal justification or excuse. The imposition of the alternate sanction shall be in addition to any other sanctions imposed for misconduct during the probationary period.


Pursuant to Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13(K)(10) of the Rules of the Supreme Court,

the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs.

The court reporter who transcribed this proceeding is Catharina M.K. Blalock, Chandler & Halasz, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227, (804) 730-1222.

It is ORDERED pursuant to the provisions of Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13(K)(1) of

the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, that the Respondent shall forthwith give notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the suspension of his license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to all clients for whom he is currently handling matters and to all opposing attorneys and presiding judges in pending litigation. The Attorney shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters then in his care in conformity with the wishes of his clients. The Attorney shall give such notice within fourteen (14) days of the effective date of the suspension order, and make such arrangements as are required herein within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the suspension. The Attorney shall furnish proof to the bar within sixty (60) days of the effective date of the suspension that such notices have been timely given and such arrangement for the disposition of matters made. Issues concerning the adequacy of the notice and arrangements required herein shall be determined by the Disciplinary Board, which may impose a sanction of revocation or suspension for failure to comply with the requirements of this subparagraph.

A copy teste of this Order shall be served upon the Respondent, Mac Andres Chambers, by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, at 618 Colorado Street, Salem, Virginia 24153, his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, by regular mail to his counsel, William H. Lindsey, Esq., at 628 Colorado Street, Salem, Virginia 24153, his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, and by hand to Edward L. Davis, Assistant Bar Counsel, at the Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, VA 23219.





ENTERED THIS _________ DAY OF ___________, 2002

THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD







BY _______________________________________

KAREN A. GOULD, SECOND VICE CHAIR