VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY
IN THE MATTER OF
PAUL BYRON COLLINS, JR.
VSB DOCKET #02-070-1280
This matter came on to be heard on December 9, 2002, on the Agreed Disposition of the Virginia State Bar and the Respondent based on the Certification of the Seventh District Subcommittee. The Agreed Disposition was considered by a duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board consisting of V. Max Beard, Bruce T. Clark, Joseph R. Lassiter, Jr., Gordon P. Peyton, Jr. and John Dezio, presiding.
Claude V. Worrell, II, representing the Bar and the Respondent, Paul Byron Collins, Jr., appearing pro se, presented an endorsed Agreed Disposition, dated December 9, 2002, reflecting the terms of the Agreed Disposition. The court reporter reporting the matter was Donna T. Chandler, Chandler & Halasz.
Having considered the Certification and the Agreed Disposition, it is the decision of the Board that the Agreed Disposition be accepted, and the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board finds by clear and convincing evidence as follows:
1. At all time relevant hereto, the Respondent, Paul Byron Collins, Jr., has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. On June 26, 2001, the Complainant, Ms. Rebecca Ashworth, met with the Respondent concerning a child support modification. Mr. Collins informed Ms. Ashworth that she had to have her original support order from Texas registered in Virginia. Once she had done that, the matter could be concluded in within one week. Mr. Collins agreed to take the Complainant's case, and on June 29, 2001, Ms. Ashworth paid Mr. Collins $750.00 in advance fees. Mr. Collins went on vacation sometime after Ms. Ashworth hired him.
3. Ms. Ashworth tried to contact Mr. Collins and left several messages for him, but he failed to return her calls. On July 20, 2001, Ms. Ashworth finally spoke with Mr. Collins, and he told her that he had not received the support order from Texas but had the petition ready for her signature. Mr. Collins also told her that he had not spoken with anyone in the clerk's office in Texas, but would do so later that day. Mr. Collins called the clerk's office in Texas and someone faxed him the necessary paperwork, which he executed and returned to the clerk's office by over-night mail. Mr. Collins told Ms. Ashworth that he should receive the support order that week, and that he would call her when it arrived.
4. On July 27, 2001, she went to Mr. Collins's office and, at about 1:00 p.m., she met with him. The support order had arrived and was in Mr. Collins's office, unopened. Mr. Collins opened the envelope while Ms. Ashworth was in his office and told her that he would have to draft a petition for her to sign. He offered to stop by Ms. Ashworth's home to have her sign the petition on his way to the Clerk's Office of the Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Mr. Collins said there should be plenty of time because the Clerk's Office was open until 4:30 p.m.
5. Mr. Collins arrived at Ms. Ashworth's home with the appropriate documents. Ms. Ashworth confronted Mr. Collins about the fact that he had not returned her phone calls, was not diligent in obtaining the support order from Texas, and about the fact that he had told her that the petition had been ready for her signature, when, in fact, it had not been. In response, Mr. Collins said that Ms. Ashworth had called him far too often. Ms. Ashworth pointed out that all her calls might not have been necessary if he had returned even one of the calls. Acording to Ms. Ashworth she tried to fire Mr. Collins on the spot, and demanded a refund and her file. She told him that he could deduct costs, but she wanted the rest of her money back. Mr. Collins said he would return $350 at a later date. Ms. Ashworth asked Mr. Collins if he felt that he had earned more than half the money, and Mr. Collins replied that he did. Ms. Ashworth again asked Mr. Collins for her file but he refused to give it to her.
6. Ms. Ashworth had no more funds to pay a new attorney with, and felt that she had no choice but to continue with Mr. Collins. The signed petition was returned to Mr. Collins and he spoke with Mr. Ashworth on or about Friday, July 27, 2001. Mr. Collins assured Mr. Ashworth that the petition would be filed the following Monday. Mr. Collins attempted to file the Petition on Wednesday, August 1, 2001.
7. On August 14, 2001, after a series of phone calls to Mr. Collins which he did not return, Ms. Ashworth called the Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Clerk's Office. The Clerk informed Ms. Ashworth that the petition that Mr. Collins had
intended to file on August 1, 2001 was incorrect and could not be accepted by her office as filed. The Clerk also informed Ms. Ashworth that she, the Clerk, could not reach Mr. Collins to inform him of the problem, and that the support order from Texas would be registered but no petition to modify the order was before the Court. The Clerk gave Ms. Ashworth the case number and the court date of October 2, 2001.
8. On August 21, 2001, Mr.Ashworth found Mr. Collins in his office. It had been three weeks since Mr. Collins had been in contact with either Ms. Ashworth or Mr. Ashworth. Mr. Ashworth informed Mr. Collins of the case number and the court date. Mr. Collins indicated that he would draft a new petition and have it ready on August 24, 2001.
9. On August 24, 2001, Mr. Collins gave Mr. Ashworth the original documents. He had not prepared a new petition. He prepared the petition while Mr. Ashworth waited and gave a copy to Mr. Ashworth. Mr. Ashworth took a copy to his wife. Ms. Ashworth reviewed the petition and on Monday morning, called Mr. Collins to advise him of an error in the petition. Mr. Collins did not call back. Frustrated by the lack of communication, Ms. Ashworth filed a pro se Motion to Enforce a Registered Order on September 5, 2001.
10. On September 14, 2001, Ms. Ashworth went to Mr. Collins' office to get copies of the new petition and a subpoena duces tecum that he was supposed to have filed. Mr. Collins had not filed the subpoena and the petition had not been corrected. When Ms Ashworth asked him about the error, Mr. Collins told her that he would just tell the Judge to ignore the error. Ms. Ashworth insisted he correct the document, which he did. Ms. Ashworth filed the petition and subpoena duces tecum herself.
11. The Court date was changed from October 2, 2001, to October 23, 2001. Mr. Collins never informed Ms. Ashworth that the hearing date had been changed. On October 16, 2001, Ms. Ashworth retrieved the subpoenaed documents from the Clerk's office. She went to Mr. Collins' office but he had moved without notifying her. On October 22, 2001, Mr. Collins called Ms. Ashworth at 8:30 p.m. Ms. Ashworth asked Mr. Collins where he had been and he replied "Oh, here, there, everywhere." Mr. Collins asked Ms. Ashworth to meet him at 12:00 p.m. at the courthouse. He indicated the subpoenaed documents should be in by now. He did not know that the documents had been returned and were in the possession of Ms. Ashworth because he never checked with the Clerk's office.
12. On October 23, 2001, Mr. Collins arrived at the courthouse at 1:20 p.m. for his 12:00 p.m. meeting with Ms. Ashworth. Mr. Collins asked the clerk for the file and the clerk told him that the Judge had the file. Mr. Collins had to ask Ms. Ashworth for her copies of the documents so he could review them. For the first time, Mr. Collins saw that opposing counsel had filed a petition to modify custody and visitation. Mr. Collins told Ms. Ashworth that he was unprepared to go to court and argue the motion. Mr. Collins agrees that he was late for the meeting and unprepared for the hearing. Mr. Collins stated that he knew that the case would be
continued because the new opposing counsel would need more time and that they would take more time than the twenty minutes allotted for the hearing.
13. Opposing counsel moved to continue the case and that motion was granted. The support order was registered and a new hearing scheduled for February of 2002. Ms. Ashworth hired new counsel following the hearing
The Board finds by clear and convincing evidence that such conduct on the part of Paul Byron Collins, Jr., constitutes a violation of the following Rules of Professional Conduct:
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.
RULE 1.16 Declining Or Terminating
(a) Except as stated in paragraph
(c), a lawyer shall not represent a client or, where representation has commenced,
shall withdraw from the representation of a client if:
(1) the representation will result
in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;
(2) the lawyer's physical or mental
condition materially impairs the lawyer's ability to represent the client; or
(3) the lawyer is discharged.
(c) In any court proceeding, counsel
of record shall not withdraw except by leave of court after compliance with
notice requirements pursuant to applicable rules of court. In any other matter,
a lawyer shall continue representation notwithstanding good cause for terminating
the representation, when ordered to do so by a tribunal.
(d) Upon termination of representation,
a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a
client's interests, such as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing
time for employment of other counsel, refunding any advance payment of fee that
has not been earned and handling records as indicated in paragraph (e).
(e) All original, client-furnished
documents and any originals of legal instruments or official documents which
are in the lawyer's possession (wills, corporate minutes, etc.) are the property
of the client and shall be returned to the client upon request, whether or not
the client has paid the fees and costs owed the lawyer. If the lawyer wants
to keep a copy of such original documents, the lawyer must incur the cost of
duplication. Upon request, the client must also be provided copies of the following
documents from the lawyer's file, whether or not the client has paid the fees
and costs owed the lawyer: lawyer/client and lawyer/third-party communications;
the lawyer's copies of client-furnished documents (unless the originals have
been returned to the client pursuant to this paragraph); pleadings and discovery
responses; working and final drafts of legal instruments, official documents,
investigative reports, legal memoranda, and other attorney work product documents
prepared for the client in the course of the representation; research
materials; and bills previously submitted to the client. Although the lawyer
may bill and seek to collect from the client the costs associated with making
a copy of these materials, the lawyer may not use the client's refusal to pay
for such materials as a basis to refuse the client's request. The lawyer, however,
is not required under this Rule to provide the client copies of billing records
and documents intended only for internal use, such as memoranda prepared by
the lawyer discussing conflicts of interest, staffing considerations, or difficulties
arising from the lawyer/client relationship.
RULE 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for
a lawyer to:
(a) violate or attempt to violate
the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do
so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) commit a criminal or deliberately
wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness
or fitness as a lawyer;
(c) engage in professional conduct
involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
(d) state or imply an ability to
influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body,
or public official; or
(e) knowingly assist a judge or
judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial
conduct or other law.
Upon consideration whereof, it is ORDERED that Paul Byron Collins, Jr., shall receive effective this date Public Reprimand with terms. The terms and conditions shall be met as indicated in this order are as follows:
1. The Respondent shall, as soon as possible, enter into a contract with Lawyers Helping Lawyers and successfully fulfill and complete his obligations under that contract. Among other things, the contract with Lawyers Helping Lawyers should require the Respondent to remain alcohol and or drug free for a period of two years from the date of signing of the contract and to participate successfully in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous by obtaining a mentor and attending regular meetings during the time period the contract is in effect. The Respondent shall waive confidentiality with regard to treatment and his compliance with Lawyers Helping Lawyers so that the Bar can receive reports concerning the Respondent's compliance with his contract with Lawyers Helping Lawyers.
Upon satisfactory proof that the
above noted terms and conditions have been met, a Public Reprimand with Terms
shall then be imposed. If, however, the terms and conditions have not been met
by December 13, 2004, this matter will be reviewed by the Board for further
It is further Ordered that, pursuant to The Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Pt. 6, ß IV, Para. 13, (B)(8)(c), the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs against the Respondent.
It is further 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,
hand-delivered to Bar Counsel and sent to Susan D. Pauley, 701 East Franklin
Street, Suite 1120, Richmond, VA 23219
Enter this day of , 2002
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY
We Ask For This:
Claude V. Worrell, II
Assistant Bar Counsel
Paul Byron Collins, Jr.