VIRGINIA:



BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD





IN THE MATTERS OF CHARLES D. CHAMBLISS, JR.

VSB Docket Nos. 99-033-1982, 99-033-2199, 00-033-1650 and 00-033-2036



ORDER



These matters came before the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board on October 2, 2001, to be heard on an Agreed Disposition between the Virginia State Bar and the respondent Charles D. Chambliss, Jr. and his counsel Craig S. Cooley.

The Agreed Disposition was considered by a duly convened panel of the Disciplinary Board consisting of Thaddeus T. Crump, Peter A. Dingman, Karen A. Gould, Theophlise L. Twitty and William M. Moffet, presiding. The respondent did not appear but was represented by his counsel Craig S. Cooley. The Virginia State Bar was represented by Bar Counsel Barbara Ann Williams.

Having considered the Agreed Disposition and the representations of counsel, the Disciplinary Board accepts the Agreed Disposition and finds by clear and convincing evidence as follows:

I. Finding of Fact Applicable to All Matters

At all relevant times, the respondent, Charles D. Chambliss, has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

II. VSB Docket No. 99-033-1982
Complainant: Terry D. Wright, M.D.

A. Findings of Fact
  1. On or about June 2, 1995, Terry D. Wright, M.D. sustained injuries to her back and neck when her automobile was rear-ended by Kim M. Godin; Dr. Wright's minor son, Justin, who was a passenger in her automobile, was also injured.

  2. On or about June 5, 1995, Dr. Wright engaged Mr. Chambliss to pursue claims arising from the accident on behalf of her son and herself against Ms. Godin, who was insured by Erie Insurance Group.

  3. Dr. Wright incurred $2,005.60 in medical bills and $5,935.58 in lost wages as a result of the accident.

  4. On or about March 27, 1996, Mr. Chambliss sent a letter to Erie Insurance Group demanding $37,625 to settle Dr. Wright's personal injury claims.

  5. The demand letter states that Ms. Godin was intoxicated at the time of the accident and was arrested for drunk driving.

  6. By letter to Erie dated July 30, 1996, Mr. Chambliss demanded $37,625 to settle Dr. Wright's compensatory damage claims and $45,000 in punitive damages.

  7. By letter to Mr. Chambliss dated January 20, 1997, Erie indicated that the company wanted to make a fair offer to settle Dr. Wright's claims based upon information that Mr. Chambliss submitted on July 30, 1996, and requested Mr. Chambliss to contact the claims representative to "discuss an amicable settlement of your client's accident-related injuries."

  8. By letter to Erie dated January 29, 1997, Mr. Chambliss advised that Dr. Wright was still receiving medical treatment, indicated that he would follow up with Erie in March when Dr. Wright's doctor determined whether her symptoms had resolved, and made a demand of $2,500 to settle Justin Wright's claims.

  9. By letter to Mr. Chambliss dated February 14, 1997, Erie advised that it had no documentation in its file whatsoever regarding Justin Wright.

  10. By letter to Erie dated May 12, 1997, Mr. Chambliss rejected Erie's offer of $12,500 and extended a new demand or counter offer of $35,000 to settle Dr. Wright's personal injury claims.

  11. By letter to Erie dated May 22, 1997, Mr. Chambliss rejected Erie's offer of $15,000 to settle Dr. Wright's personal injury claims, extended a new demand or counter-offer of $34,000 and stated "To date you have not responded to the Justin Wright demand. Let's discuss these claims" (emphasis in the original).

  12. In a facsimile message to Mr. Chambliss dated May 23, 1997, the Erie claims representative stated: "I am in the office all day. I look forward to your returning of my phone call."

  13. Although Mr. Chambliss contends he had many telephone conversations with the Erie claims representative, he did not call her between May 23 and June 1, 1997.

  14. On Friday May 30, 1997, Mr. Chambliss mailed a cover letter referencing a Motion for Judgment seeking damages on Dr. Wright's behalf along with a filing fee to the Circuit Court of Chesterfield County, Virginia.

  15. The court's date stamp indicates that the court filed the Motion for Judgment on Tuesday, June 3, 1997.

  16. On or about June 6, 1997, counsel for Erie filed a Special Plea of Statute of Limitations.

  17. At Mr. Chambliss's request, the hearing on the special plea was continued until October 20, 1997, at which time Mr. Chambliss submitted a Voluntary Non-Suit Order.

  18. Dr. Wright and Mr. Chambliss do not agree when or how she first learned her case had been dismissed

  19. Dr. Wright has never recovered anything on her personal injury claims against Ms. Godin.

  20. On or about February 23, 1999, the Virginia State Bar received Dr. Wright's bar complaint against Mr. Chambliss.

B. Findings of Misconduct

It is agreed that the following Disciplinary Rules apply to the agreed misconduct:

DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.

* * *

(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.



III. VSB Docket No. 99-033-2199
Complainant: Nancy C. Jones

A. Findings of Fact

  1. On or about October 27, 1993, Nancy C. Jones retained Mr. Chambliss to initiate divorce proceedings on her behalf.

  2. Ms. Jones and Mr. Chambliss signed a Retainer Agreement, and Ms. Jones paid Mr. Chambliss a "start up fee" of $500.

  3. By letter dated February 10, 1994, Mr. Chambliss sent a Bill of Complaint and filing fee to the Charles City Circuit Court.

  4. Mr. Chambliss and Ms. Jones had a series of meetings. Ms. Jones had fears for her safety from her husband. The bill of complaint was not served until Ms. Jones was emotionally prepared to face her husband in a hearing.

  5. Mr. Jones was not served with the Bill of Complaint until August 1994; he was not represented by counsel and did not file a response.

  6. A pendente lite hearing was held on September 12, 1994, and the judge awarded exclusive possession of the marital residence to Ms. Jones and ordered Mr. Jones to continue making all mortgage payments and monthly child support payments.

  7. Mr. Jones had been taking Ms. Jones' mail for quite some time. Ms. Jones learned through a call from an FHA representative that the mortgage on the marital residence was delinquent.

  8. In May 1996, Ms. Jones contacted Mr. Chambliss's office, indicating that she needed to make an appointment to confer with him because her husband was $10,000 behind on the mortgage and other bills.

  9. On or about July 10, 1996, Ms. Jones advised Mr. Chambliss that her husband was going to stop making mortgage payments on the marital residence. Later, foreclosure proceedings were initiated, and Mr. Jones filed for bankruptcy.

  10. By facsimile dated August 7, 1996, Mr. Chambliss provided David Karp, who Mr. Jones had retained as counsel in the divorce proceeding, a copy of the Bill of Complaint and orders entered in the proceeding.

  11. By an agreement dated October 7, 1996, which Mr. Chambliss did not prepare and of which he was unaware until after its execution, Mr. Jones conveyed his interest in the house via a Deed of Gift in return for Ms. Jones agreeing to relinquish her interests in his profit sharing plan and a color television set.

  12. On or about October 29, 1996, Ms. Jones provided Mr. Chambliss a written list of concerns and issues concerning her divorce, including funds that she believed her husband had received from a personal injury settlement. Mr. Chambliss contacted the law firm that handled the settlement and was advised the funds had long before been disbursed.

  13. Ms. Jones paid Mr. Chambliss an additional $300, which she claims she believed would be used to locate the settlement funds her husband had allegedly received. Jones had refused to pay additional fees, beyond $500, or costs in the matter. Depositions were scheduled after she paid the $300.

  14. Mr. Chambliss claims the $300 was for a court reporter's fee; he never billed Ms. Jones for the $300 or provided a written explanation of how it was spent.

  15. By facsimile dated December 6, 1996, Ms. Jones provided Mr. Chambliss information related to the house closing. Mr. Chambliss was never asked nor employed to handle the real estate closing.

  16. On or about April 10, 1997, Mr. Chambliss sent Mr. Karp a deposition notice. Discussions about settlement and support issues between Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Karp proceded the filing of the deposition notice.

  17. On or about May 7, 1997, Ms. Jones wrote Mr. Chambliss, gave him information related to the property settlement and thanked him "for getting busy." Mr. Chambliss received the letter, but Mr. Jones did not agree to settlement on Ms. Jones's terms.

  18. Ms. Jones and a witness were deposed on July 8, 1997, at Mr. Chambliss's offices.

  19. On or about August 8, 1997, Mr. Chambliss wrote Mr. Karp inquiring whether there was any interest in discussing property related issues.

  20. By letter dated November 21, 1997, Mr. Chambliss advised Mr. Karp that "we would like to conclude the Jones divorce this year."

  21. On or about December 11, 1997, Mr. Chambliss faxed a draft final decree to Mr. Karp for his review.

  22. Mr. Chambliss made multiple attempts to secure Mr. Karp's and his client's agreement to reserve equitable distribution and eventually an agreement was reached as to that.

  23. By letter dated January 12, 1998, Mr. Karp advised Mr. Chambliss that the final decree was unacceptable because Mr. Jones wanted the child support reduced to $205 per month effective August 1997. The letter was silent as to Ms. Jones settlement terms.

  24. Mr. Chambliss did not amend the final decree.

  25. By letter dated September 18, 1998, Mr. Chambliss advised Ms. Jones that the court would not enter a decree of divorce without resolving equitable distribution issues unless the parties agreed to reserve the equitable distribution related issues.

  26. On or about October 19, 1998, Ms. Jones wrote Mr. Chambliss and advised him that it was her understanding that the hold up on the final decree was because her husband wanted the child support reduced from $350 to $205 per month; Ms. Jones advised Mr. Chambliss that she had no objection to the amendment and requested him to send an amended final decree to Mr. Karp.

  27. Despite Ms. Jones' instruction, Mr. Jones was unwilling to settle. There were issues other than support. Ms. Jones was unwilling to pay commissioner's fee and costs relating to the equitable distribution.

  28. The Virginia State Bar received two complaints from Ms. Jones against Mr. Chambliss: one dated February 2, 1999, and the other dated February 12, 1999.

  29. Prior to receiving any notice of these complaints from the Virginia State Bar, Mr. Chambliss wrote Ms. Jones on March 12, 1999, indicating that he would withdraw from the case based upon her refusal "to pay fees as billed," although no bills for additional fees have been produced.

  30. The parties to the divorce were deposed a second time on April 12, 1999.

  31. On or about April 30, 1999, Mr. Chambliss sent Mr. Karp notice of the filing of the final decree and a draft final decree showing child payments in the amount of $410.

  32. The court received the final decree on or about June 11, 1999.

  33. By letter dated June 17, 1999, the court notified both counsel that the final decree had not been entered because it contained ten errors.

  34. By letter dated October 26, 1999, Ms. Jones advised the bar that Mr. Chambliss had not made any of the corrections required by the court.

  35. On or about November 18, 1999, Mr. Chambliss represented to the VSB investigator that he had failed to provide a copy of his most recent submission to the court but would do so.

  36. As of December 6, 1999, the court indicated that it had not received anything from Mr. Chambliss since his submission on April 13, 1999.

  37. Mr. Chambliss advised the court by letter dated December 22, 1999, that he had forwarded a corrected final decree to Mr. Karp. Sometime later, Mr. Chambliss called the court and was advised the decree had not been received. Mr. Chambliss telephoned Mr. Karp who discovered the decree was still in his file.


B. Agreed Findings of Misconduct

It is agreed that the following Disciplinary Rules apply to the agreed misconduct:

DR 2-105. Fees.

(A) A lawyer's fees shall be reasonable and adequately explained to the client.


DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.

* * *

(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.


IV. VSB Docket No. 00-033-1650
Complainants: Steve and Frani Branch


A. Agreed Findings of Fact
  1. Mr. Chambliss has represented Steve K. Branch for over ten years and presently serves as registered agent for Armani's Restaurant & Lounge, a business operated by a corporation whose shareholders include Frani Branch, Michael Brim and Jesse Pryor.

  2. In July 1996, Mr. Chambliss referred Mr. Branch to Ms. Olivia C. Torres, after Mr. Branch indicated he had some money he wanted to lend.

  3. In July, 1996 Mr. Branch called Mr. Chambliss and advised that Ms. Torres could pick up a $10,000 check. Ms. Torres requested Mr. Chambliss to pick up the funds for her because she had a meeting. He agreed.

  4. Upon arriving, Mr. Chambliss discovered Mr. Branch had cash, rather than a check. After telephoning Ms. Torres to see if she would accept cash, Mr. Chambliss received the cash.

  5. Mr. Branch tendered $10,000 to Mr. Chambliss and requested a receipt to be made out to his wife Frani Branch. Mr. Chambliss gave Mr. Branch a handwritten, undated receipt stating, "Received from Frani Branch for O. Torres $10,000, to be paid plus agreed interest by O. Torres on or before Tuesday, September 29, 1998," signed Charles D. Chambliss, Jr. for O. Torres. The parties are in dispute as to whether Mr. Branch met with Ms. Torres and toured Club Moravia before agreeing to loan Ms. Torres the money.

  6. The next day a second receipt allegedly signed by Ms. Torres was dropped off at Mr. Branch's place of business; the receipt states: Club Moravia, Inc. through its president Olivia C. Torres, acknowledges receipt of an investment of $10,000, from or on behalf of Frani Branch, in exchange for a guaranteed return of investment of $2500, from August 29, 1998 proceeds and $2500, from September 1998 proceeds to be paid no later than the 29th of the respective month, "signed Moravia, Inc. by President Olivia Torres.

  7. About thirty days later, Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Branch had a conversation about Mr. Branch loaning Ms. Torres an additional $10,000 on the same terms and conditions as the first loan.

  8. Mr. Branch agreed to loan Ms. Torres an additional $10,000.

  9. On August 12, 1998, Mr. Chambliss picked up the cash at Mr. Branch's office and executed a receipt for it dated September 12, 1998 [sic].

  10. The next day, Ms. Torres dropped off a signed receipt dated August 12, 1998, for the $10,000 that Mr. Branch had tendered to Mr. Chambliss.

  11. On September 29, 1998, the date all the loans were to be repaid, Mr. Branch met Mr. Chambliss at Consolidated Bank in downtown Richmond where Ms. Torres was to make the repayment; she did not show up.

  12. Approximately one month after the repayment was due, Harry Sewell, Sr., who owed Ms. Torres money, tendered certain stock to her. Ms. Torres requested Mr. Chambliss to advise Mr. Branch that she had received this stock. He did so.

  13. Mr. Chambliss then contacted a stock broker and was advised the stock was worthless. Mr. Chambliss so notified Mr. Branch and Ms. Torres.

  14. In November 1998, at Mr. Branch's request, Mr. Chambliss faxed Mr. Branch a promissory note dated June 29, 1998, but supposedly signed by Ms. Torres on November 16, 1998. While conceding that the document was a form faxed from his office, Mr. Chambliss denies signing the document.

  15. Mr. Chambliss told Mr. Branch that Ms. Torres would be able to repay the loans from the sale of art work, but the value of the art work was insufficient to satisfy the loan.

  16. After Ms. Torres failed to make any payments on the loans, Mr. Chambliss prepared two warrants in debt against her, had Mr. Branch sign the warrants and secured a hearing date on February 17, 1999, in the General District Court for the City of Richmond. Mr. Chambliss believed that Ms. Torres had decided not to contest the matter.

  17. On the day of the hearing, Mr. Chambliss met Mr. Branch outside the courtroom where he was to meet the parties. Ms. Torres was not there, and Mr. Chambliss waited outside the courtroom.

  18. Ms. Torres did not appear for the hearing but submitted a handwritten note to the court stating: "Please be informed that I am contesting the hearing date and the amounts because Counsel was representing both parties. I am requesting a continuance to retain another attorney. I will contact the court to find out the disposition. Thanks you for your attention to this matter."

  19. The general district court dismissed the warrants in debt because Mr. Branch did not have an original promissory note; all he had was the promissory note that Mr. Chambliss's office had faxed to him.

  20. Mr. Branch subsequently retained Robert Walker to represent him, and Mr. Walker eventually secured judgment against Ms. Torres. It was not contested by Ms. Torres.

  21. On or about January 3, 2000, Mr. and Mrs. Branch filed a bar complaint against Mr. Chambliss after Mr. Branch demanded that Mr. Chambliss pay the loan for Ms. Torres and Mr. Chambliss refused.

 

B. Agreed Findings of Misconduct

It is agreed that the following Disciplinary Rules apply to the agreed misconduct:

DR 5-101. Refusing Employment When the Interests of the Lawyer May Impair His Independent Professional Judgment.

(A) A lawyer shall not accept employment if the exercise of his professional judgment on behalf of his client may be affected by his own financial, business, property, or personal interests, except with the consent of his client after full and adequate disclosure under the circumstances.

* * *

DR 5-105. Refusing to Accept or Continue Employment if the Interests of Another Client May Impair the Independent Professional Judgment of the Lawyer.

* * *

(B) A lawyer shall not continue multiple employment if the exercise of his independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by his representation of another client, except to the extent permitted under DR 5-105(C).


V. VSB Docket No. 00-033-2036
Complainant: Pamela L. Brown

A. Agreed Findings of Fact

  1. On or about March 6, 1998, Pamela L. Brown, pro se, filed a warrant in debt in Henrico General District Court to collect approximately $2,500 that Kevin Foster owed her.

  2. On March 30, 1998, Mrs. Brown consulted Mr. Chambliss about the collection action, which was set for hearing on April 10, 1998. Mr. Chambliss declined to accept the case. Mrs. Brown paid an $85 consultation fee.

  3. On April 10, 1998, Mrs. Brown arrived late for the hearing; by the time she appeared, her case had been dismissed.

  4. After learning that her case had been dismissed, Mrs. Brown went to the Clerk's Office, filed another warrant in debt and was given a new hearing date of May 22, 1998.

  5. Counsel for Mr. Foster filed a motion for sanctions against Mrs. Brown and a motion to dismiss. She was served with these on April 10, 1998.

  6. Mrs. Brown called Mr. Chambliss and made an appointment to meet with him on April 21, 1998.

  7. Mr. Chambliss agreed to respond to the motion for sanctions and obtain a judgment against Mr. Brown for a flat fee of $650. The parties are in dispute as to whether Mr. Chambliss agreed to pursue any judgment to collection.

  8. There was no written fee agreement, but Ms. Brown paid Mr. Chambliss $300 on April 21, 1998, and the remaining $350 on May 8, 1998.

  9. On April 24, 1998, Mr. Chambliss filed an answer to the motion for sanctions.

  10. The collection matter was continued three times by agreement of the parties before it was finally heard on January 8, 1999; Ms. Brown gathered all the information Mr. Chambliss indicated was necessary for her case.

  11. The court entered a judgment for Ms. Brown in the amount of $2,000 plus $30 for costs. The motions for sanctions and to dismiss were successfully defended, and the court denied them.

  12. The parties dispute whether Mr. Chambliss ever agreed to pursue a garnishment of Mr. Foster.

  13. Mrs. Brown claims she telephoned Mr. Chambliss on August 6, 17, 23 and 26, 1999 and left messages asking him the status of the garnishments. Mr. Chambliss has no record or recollection of those calls.

  14. On August 30, 1999 Mrs. Brown went to the Henrico County General District Court and learned from the court clerk that a garnishment had not been filed.

  15. On August 30, Mrs. Brown went to Mr. Chambliss's office, arriving without notice or appointment, and, after waiting almost two hours while Mr. Chambliss met with scheduled appointments, met with him.

  16. Mrs. Brown believes Mr. Chambliss agreed to file a garnishment. Mr. Chambliss denies that commitment was ever made.

  17. Mrs. Brown contends she called Mr. Chambliss on October 13, 1999, but he was not available to speak with her, so she left a message for him to call her. Mr. Chambliss states that he was out of the office most of October 13th and 14th.

  18. Ms. Brown indicated that after she did not hear from him, she called Mr. Chambliss's office four more times and after failing to reach him, left messages for him to call her. Mr. Chambliss's office has no record of the messages.

  19. After not hearing from Mr. Chambliss, Mrs. Brown filed a complaint against him with the Virginia State Bar on or about January 6, 2000.

B. Agreed Findings of Misconduct

It is agreed that the following Disciplinary Rules apply to the agreed misconduct:


DR 2-105. Fees.

(A) A lawyer's fees shall be reasonable and adequately explained to the client.


DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.

* * *

(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.

VI. Disposition

The Disciplinary Board, respondent, his counsel and Bar Counsel agree that a public reprimand with the following terms is an appropriate disposition of these matters because such a sanction will serve the interests of the complainants and the public.

  1. The respondent will pay to Terry M. Wright, M.D. the sum of $18,000.00, representing the sum she would have recovered had her claims settled for $27,000.00 less attorney's fees, no later than October 24, 2001.

  2. The respondent will refund Nancy C. Jones the $800.00 she paid respondent for attorney's fees and costs no later than October 24, 2001.

  3. The respondent will pay Frani Branch $2,000.00, two years of accrued interest on the $20,000.00 that Frani Branch loaned Olivia Torres at a 5% interest rate, no later than October 24, 2001.

  4. The respondent will refund Pamela L. Brown $650.00 that she paid the respondent for attorney's fees, no later than October 24, 2001.

  5. If the respondent elects to continue in the general practice of law and to maintain a law office after January 1, 2002, the respondent shall contract with one of the Virginia State Bar's Risk Managers to conduct an audit of his law office and practice in order to suggest ways in which the respondent can improve communications with clients, record keeping practices, supervision of non-lawyer personnel and the timeliness of work performed for clients. The respondent shall bear the expenses of the law office audit and the Risk Manager who conducts the audit shall report to Bar Counsel in writing that an audit has been conducted. The respondent is responsible for ensuring that the Risk Manager reports to Bar Counsel within six months of January 1, 2002.

The alternate disposition of these matters, should respondent fail to comply with the agreed terms, will be a one year suspension. If an issue arises about the respondent's compliance with the terms of the Agreed Disposition, the Disciplinary Board will conduct a hearing as to whether the respondent has fulfilled the terms of the Agreed Disposition. The respondent shall have the burden of proof at any such hearing.

The court reporter for this hearing on the Agreed Disposition was Tracy Stroh of Chandler and Halasz Court Reporters, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227, (804) 730-1222.

Pursuant to Part Six, IV, 13(K)(10) of the Rules of the Supreme Court, the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs.

It is ORDERED that a copy teste of this Order shall be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the respondent, at his last address of record with the Virginia State Bar, 21st Center, Suite 207, 2025 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia 23223, and sent by regular mail to Respondent's Counsel, Craig S. Cooley, Esquire, P.O. Box 7268, Richmond, Virginia 23221, and hand delivered to Bar Counsel Barbara Ann Williams, Virginia State Bar, 707 E. Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219.



Enter this Order this _____ day of ______________, 2001.



VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD









By:____________________________________________

William M. Moffet, Chair