VIRGINIA:

BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD

IN THE MATTERS OF
JOHN KELLY DIXON III

VSB Docket Nos. 02-031-1698, 02-031-1872

02-031-2476, 03-031-0553, 03-031-0751
03-031-1575, 03-031-2195 and 03-033-2575

ORDER

These matters came before the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board on March 20, 2003, to be heard on an Agreed Disposition between the Virginia State Bar and the respondent John Kelly Dixon, III.

The Agreed Disposition was considered by a duly convened panel of the Disciplinary Board consisting of Chester J. Calhoun, Jr., lay member, Robert L. Freed, David R. Schultz, Herbert Taylor Williams, IV, and John A. Dezio, Chair, presiding. The respondent appeared pro se. The Virginia State Bar was represented by Bar Counsel Barbara Ann Williams.

Having considered the Agreed Disposition and the representations of the parties, the Disciplinary Board accepts the Agreed Disposition, with minor changes to which the respondent and Bar Counsel agreed, and finds by clear and convincing evidence as follows:


I. General Findings of Fact

1. Mr. Dixon was admitted to the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Virginia on April 23, 1985.

2. At all times relevant to these proceedings, Mr. Dixon was an attorney licensed and in good standing to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as in California.

3. At all times relevant to these proceedings, Mr. Dixon had a full time job with the United States Post Office, working at least 50 hours per week.

4. Mr. Dixon has no prior disciplinary record.

 

II. VSB Docket No. 02-031-1698
Complainant: Shelia R. Carroll-Simms

A. Findings of Fact

1. On or about April 26, 2001, Shelia R. Carroll-Simms retained Mr. Dixon to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for her.

2. Ms. Carroll-Simms paid Mr. Dixon $600: $400 for his fee and $200 for the bankruptcy filing fee.

3. Mr. Dixon did not deposit his fee in his attorney trust account.

4. After filing the Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition on June 12, 2001, Mr. Dixon failed to file certain lists, schedules and statements with the bankruptcy court by July 2, 2001, even after he obtained an extension of time to do so.

5. As a result of Mr. Dixon's failure to timely file the information, the bankruptcy court dismissed Ms. Carroll-Simms' Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition.

6. By order entered on September 18, 2001, the bankruptcy court granted Mr. Dixon's motion to vacate the dismissal order.

7. The bankruptcy court discharged Ms. Carroll-Simms by order entered on September 29, 2001.

8. During the course of the representation, Mr. Dixon failed to respond to Ms. Carroll-Simms' repeated inquiries about the status of the bankruptcy matter and was not in his office when Ms. Carroll-Simms attempted to see him in October 2001.

9. On or about November 30, 2001, Ms. Carroll-Simms filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

III. VSB Docket No. 02-031-1872
Complainant: Melissa Browning

A. Findings of Fact

1. Melissa Browning retained Mr. Dixon to represent her in an uncontested divorce proceeding and, by September 2000, had paid him fees totaling at least $225 plus $88 for filing and service fees.

2. Mr. Dixon did not deposit his fee in his attorney trust account.

3. Based upon what Mr. Dixon told them, Ms. Browning and her mother believed that it would take Mr. Dixon about six months to finalize the divorce.

4. On October 17, 2000, Mr. Dixon filed a Bill of Complaint and Separation Agreement with the Richmond Circuit Court.

5. Mr. Dixon did not respond to Ms. Browning's repeated inquiries about the status of the divorce proceeding.

6. To the best of Ms. Browning's information and belief, Mr. Dixon did not have an office, and his voice mail mailbox was often full, making it impossible for her to leave voice mail messages for him.

7. Ms. Browning filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon on or about November 7, 2001.

8. The Circuit Court of the City of Richmond granted a final decree of divorce to Ms. Browning on July 1, 2002.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

IV. VSB Docket No. 02-031-2476
Complainant: Calvin D. Edwards

A. Findings of Fact

1. In October 2001, Calvin D. Edwards retained Mr. Dixon to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on behalf of Mr. Edwards and his wife.

2. Mr. Edwards paid Mr. Dixon $200, not including filing fees.

3. Mr. Dixon did not deposit his fee in his attorney trust account.

4. Mr. Dixon filed a joint petition on December 20, 2001.

5. The bankruptcy petition was dismissed in January 2002, and court costs were assessed after Mr. Dixon failed to file an assets and liabilities schedule with the court even though he had obtained an extension of time to do so.

6. Mr. Dixon led Mr. Edwards to believe that the case had been voluntarily dismissed because Mr. Edwards' wife could not attend a creditors' hearing.

7. Over the course of the representation, Mr. Dixon did not respond to Mr. Edwards' repeated inquiries about the status of the bankruptcy matter.

8. On more than one occasion during the course of the representation, Mr. Edwards was unable to leave Mr. Dixon a voice mail message because Mr. Dixon's voice mail mailbox was full.

9. On or about February 7, 2002, Mr. Edwards filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon.

10. Sometime after June 13, 2002, Mr. Dixon filed an individual Chapter 13 petition on Mr. Edwards' behalf, and the matter is now before the bankruptcy trustee.

 

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

V. VSB Docket No. 03-031-0553
Complainant: Deborah S. Ratcliffe

A. Findings of Fact

1. In or about January 2002, Ms. Ratcliffe retained Mr. Dixon to represent her in an uncontested divorce proceeding.

2. In or about February 2002, Ms. Ratcliffe paid Mr. Dixon a fee of at least $350, not including $64 in court costs.

3. Mr. Dixon did not deposit his fee in his attorney trust account.

4. Mr. Dixon advised Ms. Ratcliffe that her husband, who is incarcerated would need a guardian ad litem, and per Mr. Dixon's advice, Ms. Ratcliffe paid Richard Bing $250 to represent her husband.

5. Mr. Dixon told Ms. Ratcliffe that he expected to finalize the divorce in three or four months.

6. Ms. Ratcliffe received a copy of a Bill of Complaint filed in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond on February 14, 2002, but nothing else.

7. Having heard nothing from Mr. Dixon, in May 2002, Ms. Ratcliffe attempted to reach him by telephone.

8. During the course of the representation, Ms. Ratcliffe left Mr. Dixon approximately 20 voice mail messages; he did not return her calls.

9. Sometimes Ms. Ratcliffe was unable to leave Mr. Dixon voice mail messages because his voice mail box was full.

10. Ms. Ratcliffe filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon on or about June 26, 2002.

11. In September 2002, Mr. Dixon assured Ms. Ratcliffe that he would have the divorce finalized in a couple of weeks.

12. As of January 31, 2003, Mr. Dixon had not finalized the divorce.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

RULE 1.3 Diligence

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

(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.

* * *

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

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

VI. VSB Docket No. 03-033-0751
Complainant: Tonya D. Winston-Clark

A. Findings of Fact

1. Tonya D. Winston-Clark retained Mr. Dixon to represent her in an uncontested divorce proceeding.

2. Mr. Dixon assured Ms. Winston-Clark that it would take him about 90 days to finalize the divorce.

3. Ms. Winston-Clark paid Mr. Dixon at least $230, plus a filing fee.

4. Mr. Dixon did not deposit the fee in his attorney trust account.

5. Mr. Dixon failed to respond to his client's repeated inquiries about the status of the divorce proceeding, and in August 2001, she filed a bar complaint against him.

6. Bar counsel attempted to deal with the complaint proactively.

7. By letter dated April 9, 2002, Mr. Dixon advised bar counsel that he would be able to finalize Ms. Winston-Clark's divorce "very soon."

8. At Mr. Dixon's request, Ms. Winston-Clark obtained her husband's social security number, but she had to call him many times before she could leave him the information because his voice mail box was full.

9. On or about August 9, 2002, Ms. Winston-Clark wrote the bar, complaining that Mr. Dixon had advised her two months earlier that he would send her the paperwork needed to finalize the divorce and that she had not heard from him since.

10. By letter dated September 9, 2002, Mr. Dixon advised bar counsel that he would contact Ms. Winston-Clark, schedule a meeting with her at his office and secure the documents and information necessary to finalize the divorce.

11. In or about October 2002, Mr. Dixon deposed Ms. Winston-Clark and a witness in his office.

12. At that time, Mr. Dixon promised to file the paperwork necessary to conclude the divorce within thirty days.

13. As of January 9, 2003, Mr. Dixon still had not finalized Ms. Winston-Clark's divorce.

14. The Richmond Circuit Court file indicates that Mr. Dixon has not filed anything in the divorce action since April 2001.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

RULE 1.3 Diligence

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

(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.

* * *

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

VII. VSB Docket No. 03-031-1575
Complainant: Judith B. Shaw

A. Findings of Fact

1. Judith B. Shaw retained Mr. Dixon in February 2002 to represent her in an uncontested divorce proceeding.

2. Ms. Shaw paid Mr. Dixon $200 plus a filing fee.

3. Mr. Dixon did not deposit his fee in his attorney trust account.

4. In May 2002, Ms. Shaw began trying to contact Mr. Dixon to advise him that she did not want any property settlement in connection with her divorce.

5. Mr. Dixon's voice mail box was frequently full, so Ms. Shaw could not leave him a voice mail message.

6. In early June 2002, Ms. Shaw was finally able to leave Mr. Dixon a voice mail message directing him to dispensing with the property settlement.

7. Mr. Dixon did not return Ms. Shaw's call, and she did not speak to him until June 3, 2002, when she called him.

8. Mr. Dixon told Ms. Shaw that he would proceed with the divorce action and to call him back in two weeks if she had not heard from him before then.

9. When Ms. Shaw called Mr. Dixon three weeks later, after not hearing anything from him, his voice mail box was full.

10. Ms. Shaw went to Mr. Dixon's "office," only to be told by the receptionist that Mr. Dixon really did not have an office there, he simply met with clients in the conference room and was rarely around.

11. The receptionist gave Ms. Shaw Mr. Dixon's home telephone number.

12. Ms. Shaw reached Mr. Dixon at home, and he advised her that he thought his work was done but that her file was in his "office" and he would call her the next day after reviewing her file.

13. A week later Ms. Shaw had not heard anything from Mr. Dixon, so she called him at home again and left several messages with his wife; Mr. Dixon did not return her calls.

14. On November 12, 2002, Ms. Shaw spoke to her husband's attorney who told Ms. Shaw that she had sent Mr. Dixon the return of service and notice of waiver on August 12, 2002, but had not heard from him since then.

15. Ms. Shaw filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon on or about November 15, 2002.

16. A final decree was issued in Ms. Shaw's divorce in March 2003.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

RULE 1.3 Diligence

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

(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.

* * *

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

VIII. VSB Docket No. 03-031-2195
Complainant: Tamiko N. Tunstall

A. Findings of Fact

1. In April or May 2001, Tamiko N. Tunstall retained Mr. Dixon to handle an uncontested divorce for her and paid him at least $250.

2. Mr. Dixon did not deposit the fee in his attorney trust account.

3. Mr. Dixon told Ms. Tunstall that it would not take very long for the divorce to be finalized because it was a simple matter.

4. When Ms. Tunstall did not hear anything from Mr. Dixon, she attempted to contact him, but he did not return her telephone calls.

5. On March 23, 2001, Ms. Tunstall accompanied a friend she had referred to Mr. Dixon to Mr. Dixon's office for depositions to be taken in her friend's divorce case.

6. At that time, Mr. Dixon admitted he had never filed Ms. Tunstall's divorce; he refunded her $125 and indicated that he would file her divorce and set up an appointment for April 20, 2001, to refund the balance of his fee.

7. Mr. Dixon failed to keep his appointment with Ms. Tunstall, failed to file the divorce action and failed to return any of Ms. Tunstall's telephone calls.

8. Ms. Tunstall filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon on January 20, 2003.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

RULE 1.3 Diligence

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

(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.

* * *

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

IX. VSB Docket No. 03-033-2575
Complainant: Gloria Smith

A. Findings of Fact

1. In October 2002, Gloria Smith paid Mr. Dixon approximately $250 to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for her.

2. Mr. Dixon did not deposit the fee in his attorney trust account.

3. After the bankruptcy court granted Ms. Smith a discharge in January 2003, she discovered that Mr. Dixon failed to effect a redemption on her car.

4. As a result of Mr. Dixon's failure to redeem her car, the finance company advised Ms. Smith that it intended to repossess the car.

5. Ms. Smith attempted to contact Mr. Dixon by telephone several times but was unable to leave him a voice mail message because his voice mail box was full.

6. Ms. Smith subsequently learned that Mr. Dixon had relocated his office and failed to advise her of his new business address.

7. Ms. Smith has been unable to obtain a copy of her file from Mr. Dixon.

8. Ms. Smith filed a bar complaint against Mr. Dixon on or about February 21, 2003.

B. Findings of Misconduct

The foregoing findings of fact give rise to the following findings of misconduct under the Rules of Professional Conduct:

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.

* * *

RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property

(a) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable escrow accounts maintained at a financial institution in the state in which the law office is situated and no funds belonging to the lawyer or law firm shall be deposited therein except as follows:

(1) funds reasonably sufficient to pay service or other charges or fees imposed by the financial institution may be deposited therein; or

(2) funds belonging in part to a client and in part presently or potentially to the lawyer or law firm must be deposited therein, and the portion belonging to the lawyer or law firm must be withdrawn promptly after it is due unless the right of the lawyer or law firm to receive it is disputed by the client, in which event the disputed portion shall not be withdrawn until the dispute is finally resolved.

* * *

RULE 1.16 Declining Or Terminating Representation

* * *

(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.

X. Disposition

Accordingly, the Disciplinary Board, John K. Dixon III, and Bar Counsel agree that a Five Year Suspension with the following terms is an appropriate disposition of these matters:

1) Mr. Dixon shall not accept any new clients between March 20 and March 28, 2003.

2) Mr. Dixon shall maintain a current address of record with the Virginia State Bar while he is suspended from the practice of law;

3) Mr. Dixon shall notify all his remaining clients of his suspension in the manner required by the Rules of Court and return these clients' files upon request; and

4) Mr. Dixon shall promptly return former clients' files to the clients upon request.

Mr. Dixon's failure to comply with any one or more of the agreed terms will result in the imposition of the alternative sanction of Revocation. The imposition of the alternative sanction shall not require any hearing on the underlying charges of misconduct. If the Virginia State Bar discovers that Mr. Dixon has failed to comply with any of the agreed terms, the bar shall issue and serve upon Mr. Dixon a Notice of Hearing to Show Cause why the alternative sanction of revocation should not be imposed. At the hearing, the sole factual issue will be whether the Mr. Dixon has violated one or more terms of the five year suspension without legal justification or excuse.

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

The Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs pursuant to Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13.B.8.c. of the Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court.

It is ORDERED that the five year suspension with terms shall take effect on March 28, 2003, and that a copy teste of this Order shall be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the respondent, John Kelly Dixon, III, 7907 Chowning Circle, Richmond, Virginia 23294, his last address of record with the Virginia State Bar, 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 24th day of March, 2003.

VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD

By: John A. Dezio, Chair