VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
IN THE MATTER OF
CHRISTIAN JARRELL GRIFFIN
VSB Docket # 02-070-1142, 02-070-3507, 03-070-2941
This matter came on the 11th day of February, 2004, to be heard on the Agreed Disposition of the Virginia State Bar and the Respondent, based upon the Certification of the Seventh District Committee. The Agreed Disposition was considered by a duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board consisting of James L. Banks, Jr., Larry B. Kirksey, Joseph R. Lassiter, Jr., Werner H. Quasebarth, Lay Member, and Robert L. Freed, Second Vice Chair, presiding.
Claude V. Worrell, II, Esquire, representing the Bar, and the Respondent, Christian Jarrell Griffin, Esquire, by his/her counsel, David R. Rosenfeld, Esquire, presented an endorsed Agreed Disposition. The hearing was transcribed by Valarie L. Schmit, Court Reporter, Chandler & Halasz, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, VA 23227, 804-730-1222.
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 times relevant hereto, the Respondent, Christian Jarrell Griffin, (hereinafter Respondent), has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Virginia State Bar Docket Number 02-070-1142
2. Alida O'Neal, Clerk of the Clarke County General District Court (hereinafter the Complainant), informed the Virginia State Bar that the Respondent received a parking meter violation ticket on September 12, 2000 in Berryville, Virginia. The Respondent did not pay the fine within the required 24 hours.
3. On July 12, 2001, the Respondent tendered a check to the Clerk's Office of Clark County General District Court to pay the aforementioned fine, interest, and assessed court costs. The check was drawn on the Respondent's trust account. The check was returned to the Clerk's Office unpaid by the Respondent's bank. On September 19, 2001, the Clerk's Office notified the Respondent that his trust account check had been returned by his bank unpaid. On November 1, 2001, the Respondent paid his fine, costs, bad check fee and town interest by personal check.
Virginia State Bar Docket Number 02-070-3507
4. The Respondent received four citations, three for parking and one for failing to display a city or county decal.
5. On May 2, 2002, the Respondent went to the clerk's office to pay his fines and costs. The Respondent wrote a check from his trust account payable to the "General District Court" in the amount of $118.68.
Virginia State Bar Docket Number 03-070-2941
6. On February 15, 2003, the Respondent wrote two checks from his trust account check number 4055 in the amount of $140.74 and check number 4056 in the amount of $131.99, both to pay for personal expenses.
7. During the Bar's investigation of the above-referenced cases, the Respondent admitted that he was using his trust account as his operating and personal account. The Respondent indicated that he had been using his trust account as his operating and personal account for two and a half years. He indicated that he started using his trust account as his operating account because the bank closed his operating account due to little or no activity. There is no evidence that the Respondent used client funds to pay any personal or operating expenses.
The Board finds by clear and convincing evidence that such conduct on the part of Christian Jarrell Griffin, Esquire constitutes a violation of the following Rule(s) of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility:
RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property
(b) When in the course of representation a lawyer is in possession of property in which both the lawyer and another person claim interests, the property shall be kept separate by the lawyer until there is an accounting and severance of their interests. If a dispute arises concerning their respective interests, the lawyer shall keep the portion in dispute separate until the dispute is resolved.
(c) A lawyer shall:
* * *
(3) maintain complete records of all funds, securities, and other properties of a client coming into the possession of the lawyer and render appropriate accounts to the client regarding them; . . .
(d) Funds, securities or other properties held by a lawyer or law firm as a fiduciary shall be maintained in separate fiduciary accounts, and the lawyer or law firm shall not commingle the assets of such fiduciary accounts in a common account (including a book-entry custody account), except in the following cases (exceptions omitted) . . . .
(e) Record-Keeping Requirements, Required Books and Records. As a minimum requirement every lawyer engaged in the private practice of law in Virginia, hereinafter called "lawyer," shall maintain or cause to be maintained, on a current basis, books and records which establish compliance with Rule 1.15(a) and (c). Whether a lawyer or law firm maintains computerized records or a manual accounting system, such system must produce the records and information required by this Rule.
(i) Required Escrow Accounting Procedures. The following minimum escrow accounting procedures are applicable to all escrow accounts subject to Rule 1.15(a) and (c) by lawyers practicing in Virginia. (Subparagraphs 1 through 6 omitted.)
It is hereby ORDERED that the Respondent shall receive a Public Reprimand with Terms effective upon entry of this order as representing an appropriate sanction if this matter were to be heard. The terms and conditions shall be met by July 1, 2004, are as follows:
1. The Respondent shall certify in writing to the Virginia State Bar that he has established separate trust and operating accounts. The existence of these accounts shall be verified by the Virginia State Bar. Furthermore, the Respondent shall make his records available for review upon request of the Virginia State Bar.
2. The Respondent shall read Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15, and shall certify in writing to Assistant Bar Counsel assigned to this case that he has done so. The Respondent shall establish an office policy that conforms to the requirements of Rule 1.15. The Respondent shall certify in writing that he has done so.
If, however, the terms and conditions have not been met by July 1, 2004, the alternative sanction shall be a thirty day suspension of Mr. Griffinís license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It is further ORDERED that, pursuant to the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Pt. 6, § IV, Para. 13.B.8.c., the Respondent shall be assessed an administrative fee and costs for this Agreed Disposition proceeding.
It is further ORDERED that this matter be removed from the Board's docket and placed among the closed files, since there is no further action to be taken unless the Respondent fails to comply with the terms imposed by the Disciplinary Board, in which case a show-cause proceeding will be initiated.
It is further ORDERED that upon representation by the Assistant Bar Counsel to the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board that the Respondent has failed to comply with the terms and conditions as set forth above, a show-cause proceeding will be initiated before the Disciplinary Board seeking imposition of the alternative sanction. Any show-cause proceeding will be considered a new matter, and under Pt. 6, § IV, Para. 13.B.8.c. of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Respondent will be assessed an administrative fee and costs of such show-cause proceeding.
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, 203 East Boscawen Street, Winchester, Virginia 22601, and by regular first-class mail the Respondent's Counsel, David R. Rosenfeld, Esquire, at Second Floor, 118 South Royal Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3392, and to Assistant Bar Counsel Claude V. Worrell, II, Virginia State Bar, 100 North Pitt Street, Suite 310, Alexandria, VA 22314.
Enter this Order this _____ day of _____________________________, 2004
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Robert L. Freed, 2nd Vice Chair