V I R G I N I A:



BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD



IN THE MATTER OF VSB Docket: 98-031-3005

LAWONNA DAVES 99-031-2796

99-031-2839

 

ORDER OF REVOCATION



This cause came to be heard the 23rd day of March 2001, on a Certification from the Third District Committee, Section I, before a duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board composed of Henry P. Custis, Jr., Chair presiding, Bruce T. Clark, Chester J. Cahoon, Jr., Robert L. Freed, and Deborah A. Wilson. Charlotte P. Hodges ("Assistant Bar Counsel") appeared as Counsel to the Virginia State Bar ("VSB"). Lawonna Daves, ("Respondent") did not appear.

All legal notice of the date and place were timely sent by the Clerk of the Disciplinary System, in the manner prescribed by law.

The case was called three times; Respondent neither answered the docket call nor appeared to defend her interest. The Chair opened the hearing by polling the Board members to ascertain whether any member had a conflict of interest that would preclude him or her from serving. There were no conflicts and the hearing proceeded as scheduled.

Bar Counsel proffered the Bar's case to the Board and offered into evidence various exhibits. Virginia State Bar Exhibits Nos.1-63, docket numbers 98-031-3005, 99-031-2796 and 99-031-2839, respectively, were admitted into evidence, without objection.

FINDINGS OF FACT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 98-031-3005 (Complainant, Janet Grubbs)

 

Having considered the facts proffered by Assistant Bar Counsel, Charlotte P. Hodges, all exhibits introduced into evidence by Bar Counsel, without objection, as well as arguments by Bar Counsel, the Board finds by clear and convincing evidence that:

1. At all times relevant hereto the Respondent, Lawonna Daves, has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

2. In the matter of VSB Docket No. 98-031-3005 (Janet Grubbs), Janet Grubbs ("Complainant") hired Respondent to complete an adoption of Complainant's unborn infant.

3. Grubbs alleged that Respondent quoted a fee of $1,800-2,000, including the Guardian ad Litem fee. This assertion is disputed by VSB Exhibit 16, a letter dated August 15, 1997, written by Respondent and addressed to Assistant Bar Counsel, Dorothy M. Pater, wherein Respondent indicates a range of $2,000 to $2,500 for an adoption without complications, billing at an hourly rate $100.00 plus costs.

4. No written retainer agreement or contract was executed by the parties hereto.

5. The child, scheduled for adoption by Complainant, was born on March 7, 1997.

6. Complainant received a bill for services rendered May 31, 1997 in the amount of $2,397.80.

7. By letter dated August 28, 1997, Complainant terminated Respondent's services, inter alia, due to a fee dispute.

8. Respondent, neither acknowledged or responded to Complainant's letter terminating services, and continued to perform services on behalf of Complainant.

9. On March 23, 1998, Complainant filed, pro se, a Final Order of Adoption with the Prince Edward Circuit Court.

10. The Order filed, pro se, by Complainant was not entered by the Prince Edward Circuit Court, as Respondent was still counsel of record.

11. Complainant contacted Respondent on May 1, 1998, and requested that she formally withdraw from the case. Respondent did not file a Motion to Withdraw; instead, she sent letters to the Prince Edward Circuit Court and Henrico Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court stating that she was withdrawing as counsel for "nonpayment of legal fees and costs."

12. In June of 1998, Complainant was served with notice of a July 8, 1998, hearing in the Henrico County Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court.

13. Complainant was not successful in her attempts to reach Respondent to discuss the matter and contacted a clerk in the Henrico County Juvenile Court.

14. Complainant discovered that a hearing was held on April 8, 1998, regarding the final adoption and neither Complainant nor Respondent appeared.

15. Complainant did not appear at the April 8, 1998 hearing because Respondent failed to provide her with notice of the hearing.

16. Respondent failed to attend the hearing, although she had notice.

17. At the time of the April 8, 1998 hearing, Respondent was still counsel of record; she failed to attend the hearing, continue the matter or take steps to ascertain whether new counsel had been substituted.

18. On May 20, 1998, Respondent submitted a proper Motion to Withdraw to the Prince Edward Circuit Court, after having been advised by Complainant that her prior letter to the court was not a proper withdrawal.

19. Respondent, in her Motion to Withdraw, falsely represented to the Prince Edward Circuit Court that she was engaged in litigation against Complainant, pending in the Henrico County General District Court, for unpaid legal fees.

20. Respondent never filed a Warrant in Debt against Complainant and was not involved in any litigation at the time of her representation to the court.

NATURE OF MISCONDUCT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 98-031-3005

 

The Board unanimously finds that Respondent violated the following Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility:

DR 1-102 (A)(4)

DR 2-108 (A)(3) and (D)

DR 6-101 (B)

DR 7-102 (A)(5) & (8)

FINDINGS OF FACT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 99-031-2839 (Complainant, James H. Nunnery)

21. Complainant, James H. Nunnery, contacted Respondent in the fall of 1997 to discuss pursing a wrongful death action either on his behalf and/ or that of the decedent's sisters.

22. Complainant met with Respondent in November of 1997 and provided her with all of the decedent's medical records.

23. Although no fee agreement was signed, it was agreed that Respondent would be paid on the basis of a contingency fee.

24. Following the November, 1997 meeting it was Complainant's belief that Respondent had agreed to handle the case.

25. Between November 1997 and the spring of 1998, Complainant and Respondent spoke several times regarding the wrongful death matter. Respondent always responded that she was, "looking into it."

26. In early 1998, there was no contact between Complainant and Respondent for a period of approximately three months, notwithstanding repeated attempts by Complainant to contact Respondent.

27. In June 1998, Complainant spoke with Respondent regarding the statute of limitations in the wrongful death matter and was told that a year remained to file the action.

28. Commencing June, 1998 and continuing until on or about March or April 1999, Complainant left several telephone messages for Respondent that were unanswered and shortly thereafter received a recording stating that the phone had been disconnected.

29. On April 28, 1999, Complainant sent Respondent a certified letter that was returned, unclaimed, to him.

30. Complainant received the decedent's medical records from the Respondent, following the filing of his Complaint with the Virginia State Bar.

31. Following receipt of decedent's medical records, approximately five weeks remained before the tolling of the statute of limitations in the wrongful death action.

NATURE OF MISCONDUCT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 99-031-2839

(Complainant, James H. Nunnery)



Prior to the deliberation by the Board, the Bar withdrew allegations that Respondent violated DR 7-101 (2). The Board unanimously finds that Respondent violated the following Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility:

DR 2-108 (D)

DR 6-101 (B) (C) and (D)

DR 7-101 (A) (1) and (3)

FINDINGS OF FACT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 99-031-2796 (Complainant, Clyde E. Wilson and Arienne A. Boyer)

32. On or about March 3, 1999, Complainants, Clyde Wilson and Arienne Boyer, hired Respondent to initiate a divorce action on behalf of Complainant, Wilson, a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

33. On or about March 3, 1999, Complainants paid Respondent, via money

order, the sum of $600.00 to represent Wilson in this matter.

34. No written contract or fee agreement was executed by the parties.

35. The funds were deposited into an account, other than a trust account, at a time when some or all of the fee had not been earned.

36. Respondent informed Complainants that it would be necessary for her to research issues, as she had never filed a divorce in South Carolina.

37. A few weeks later following Respondent's review of the facts presented to her by Complainants, Respondent contacted the client. She, apparently, determined that the appropriate jurisdiction for filing Wilson's divorce action was South Carolina and not Virginia. She advised Complainant that she was also licensed in that state and could assist in the matter. She stated that she would prepare work and immediately begin the process.

38. Two weeks passed and Complainants did not hear from Respondent, despite attempts to contact her. They later learned that her business phone had been disconnected and had no way of contacting her.

39. For approximately three weeks, following Complainant's knowledge that Respondent's phone had been disconnected, they unsuccessfully attempted to contact her via telephone and mail.

40. Complainants were contacted by Respondent on or about April 19, 1999, provided with a South Carolina phone number, and informed that she was visiting in South Carolina.

41. Respondent returned a call to Complainants on April 21, 1999 and stated that she had filed a Complaint, a few days prior; she also stated that a copy had been mailed to them.

42. Complainants tried contacting Respondent, commencing April 26, 1999, through May 17. 1999, to inform her that they had not received the Complaint and summons. Complainants reached Respondent on two occasions and were told that the documents would again be mailed. On May 17, 1999, Complainant, Boyer, left a message with Respondent's mother terminating Respondent's representation in the case.

43. On May 17, 1999, Boyer contacted the Family Court in Spartanburg and was informed by Anna Lancaster, an employee in the clerk's office, that no complaint had been filed.

44. On May 19, 1999, Complainants sent a certified letter to Respondent formally terminating her representation in the case. A request was also made for return of monies paid, as Respondent had not performed the work for which she was hired.

45. On May 20, 1999, Respondent personally signed the receipt acknowledging the certified letter sent by Complainants, terminating her representation.

46. On May 21, 1999, Respondent sent Complainants copies of a Complaint, Settlement Agreement and two bills for services.

47. The summons and complaint were filed and stamped by the court on May 21, 1999 and not April 21, 1999.

48. Documents contained in Respondent's file appear to have been altered or fabricated to reflect that work had been done as represented by Respondent to Complainants.

49. Complainant Wilson's complaint was eventually dismissed and removed from the court's docket for failure to prosecute.

50. Respondent failed to cooperate with the Virginia State Bar's investigative efforts to obtain documentation relating to her trust account records in this case; the Bar was forced to seek the desired information through the assistance of the South Carolina Bar.

Upon conclusion of the Bar's proffer in VSB Docket No: 99-031-2796, Board Member, Bruce Clark, raised the issue of jurisdiction, as the action before the Board involved a divorce action that was initiated in state of South Carolina.

The Bar argued that Complainants lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia and hired Respondent because she was a Virginia lawyer. The fact that she was a South Carolina attorney was an added bonus and did not form the basis of the initial attorney client relationship. Moreover, the evidence proffered by the Bar established that Respondent was not confident that she would be able to initiate a divorce action in South Carolina and stated that she would have to research the issue. Complainant's formally engaged Respondent on March 3, 1999, in her Virginia office, with the understanding that she would be practicing in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was following the establishment of the attorney client relationship in Virginia that Respondent announced that she would file the divorce action in South Carolina.

Supreme Court Rule 8:5 (a) provides in relevant part that:

A lawyer admitted to practice in this jurisdiction is subject to the disciplinary authority of this jurisdiction, regardless of where the lawyer's conduct occurs. A lawyer may be subject to the disciplinary authority of both this jurisdiction and another jurisdiction where the lawyer is admitted for the same conduct.

The Board finds that Respondent, as a member of the Virginia State Bar, is properly before the Board and is subject to the disciplinary authority of this jurisdiction. The Bar has satisfactorily proven its case by clear and convincing evidence and Respondent is subject to the sanction(s) imposed by this Board, herein.

NATURE OF MISCONDUCT APPLICABLE TO VSB DOCKET NO: 99-031-2796

(Complainant, Clyde E. Wilson and Arienne A. Boyer)

 

The Board unanimously finds that Respondent violated the following Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility:

DR 1-102 (A) (1)(3) and (4)

DR 2-105 (A)

DR 2-108 (D)

DR 6-101 (A)(1)(2); (B) (C)

DR 7-101 (A) (2)

DR 7-102(A) (5)(6)(8)

DR 9-102 (A)(2) and (B)(3)(4)

DR 9-103 (A)(1)(2)(3) and (4)

Rule 8:1 (c) and (d)

IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS

The Board took into consideration the instant matter, as well as, Virginia State Bar Docket Nos: 98-031-3005 and 99-031-2839.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the license to practice law in the Courts of this Commonwealth heretofore issued to LAWONNA DAVES, Esquire, be and the same is hereby REVOKED, effective March 23, 2001.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED pursuant to the provisions of Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13 (K)(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, that Respondent shall forthwith give notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the revocation of her license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to all clients for whom she is currently handling matters and to all opposing counsel and presiding judges in pending litigation in which she is involved. The Attorney shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters then in her care conforming to the wishes of her clients. The Attorney shall give such notice within fourteen days of the effective date of the revocation order, and shall make such arrangements, as are required herein within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the revocation order. The Attorney shall furnish proof to the bar within sixty (60) days of the effective date of the revocation order that such notices have been timely given and such arrangements 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 paragraph. FURTHER ORDERED that Respondent, Lawonna Daves, shall furnish true copies of all notice letters sent to all persons notified of the revocation, with the original return receipts for said notice letters to the Clerk of the Disciplinary System, on or before May 22, 2001.

FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System send an attested and true copy of this Opinion Order to Respondent, Lawonna Daves, by certified mail, return receipt requested, at her address of record with the Virginia State Bar, 751 Daves Road, York, South Carolina 29745 and to Charlotte P. Hodges, Assistant Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219.

Catharina M.K. Blalock, Chandler & Halasz, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227, (804) 730-1222, was the reporter for the hearing and having been duly sworn, transcribed the proceedings.

The Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs pursuant to Part 6, IV, 13(K)(10) of the Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court.





ENTER THIS ORDER THIS __ DAY OF __________ __, 2001



VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLNARY BOARD



By _______________________________

Henry P. Custis, Jr.

Chair