VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY
IN THE MATTER OF PETER JOHN LAMARCA,
VSB Docket # 02-062-2653
This matter came on the 1st day of March, 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 Thaddeus T. Crump, Lay Member, Theophlise Lee Twitty, Herbert Taylor Williams, IV, and Robert L. Freed, Second Vice Chair, presiding. Board member Janipher Robinson was unable to participate. The parties agreed to waive any objection to the composition of the Disciplinary Board and agreed that the four present Disciplinary Board members should hear the matter.
Claude V. Worrell, II, Esquire, representing
the Bar, and the Respondent, Peter John LaMarca, IV, Esquire, by his counsel,
Joseph A.C. Synan, Esquire, presented an endorsed Agreed Disposition. The hearing
was transcribed by Tracy Stroh, 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 amended 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, Peter John LaMarca, Esquire (hereinafter Respondent) has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. In April of 1999, Richard Pankratz (hereinafter the Complainant) hired the Respondent to represent his son's estate in a wrongful death suit. The Complainant paid the Respondent $4,000.00 in advance fees and agreed to pay the Respondent one-third of any recovery.
3. On June 9, 1999, the Respondent filed a motion for judgment in the Circuit Court of Stafford County. The motion was served and the firm of Brandt, Jennings, Roberts, Davis & Snee was hired to represent Rick G. Killion, the named defendant in the suit.
4. One week later, on June 16, 1999, Joseph Roberts, Esquire requested discovery. Mr. Roberts asked the Respondent to answer interrogatories and produce certain documents. On July 9, 1999, the Respondent certified that the defendant was served with the Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Request for Admissions. On July 12, 1999, the Respondent served on the defendant the Plaintiff's responses to interrogatories and request for production of documents.
5. On September 29, 1999, the defendant filed a motion to compel discovery. The defendant indicated that a letter was sent to the Respondent on September 6, 1999, which attempted to resolve the outstanding discovery matters.
6. On October 4, 1999, the Circuit Court issued an Order compelling the Respondent to provide full and complete answers to defendant's interrogatories "not later than October 18, 1999". The Respondent did not comply with that order.
7. On November 10, 1999, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss based upon the Respondent's failure to comply with the Court's order.
8. On February 1, 2000, the Court issued an order sustaining the Defendant's demurrer which, among other things, severely limited the Respondent's ability to win his case. The Court noted that the Respondent failed to comply with discovery and would be precluded from introducing certain facts into evidence. On February 16, 2000, Mr. Roberts served on the Respondent his objections to interrogatories and request for production of documents in his possession.
9. On August 27, 2001, Mr. Roberts
filed a Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony and a praecipe to set the
matter for a hearing on September 4,  sic. Mr. Roberts noted in
his motion that the trial was scheduled for October 30-31, 2001 with a jury.
The Court's scheduling order was entered on October 3, 2000. The Respondent
was to identify expert witnesses ninety (90) days before trial in compliance
with Rule 4:1(b)(4)(A)(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The
order also provided that the deadlines set by the Order do not relieve a party
the obligation to supplement or amend prior discovery responses pursuant to Rule 4:1(e). The order reflects that he filed two motions to compel discovery.
10. On September 10, 2001, an order to non-suit was entered by the Court. The Respondent did not inform his clients of his intention to non-suit the case and he has not communicated with them since the order to non-suit was entered. In fact, the Respondent failed to communicate with his clients between March of 2000 and September 10, 2001. The Respondent failed to adequately pursue the development of the case as he did not talk with potential witnesses. As such, he could not determine the adequacy of his case. Furthermore, the Respondent did not provide adequate legal counsel to the Complainant because he never attempted to explain nor did he explain the law of the case to the Complainant.
Mitigating factors recognized by the ABA include the following:
c. personal or emotional problems;
f. inexperience in the practice of law.
Aggravating factors recognized by the ABA include the following:
a. prior disciplinary offenses;
c. a pattern of misconduct;
h. vulnerability of victim;
B. STIPULATION OF MISCONDUCT
The aforementioned conduct on the
part of the Respondent constitutes a violation of the following Virginia Rules
of Professional Conduct:
DR 1-102. Misconduct.
(A) A lawyer shall not:
(1) Violate a Disciplinary Rule or knowingly aid another to do so.
(3) Commit a crime or other deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law.
DR 2-108. Terminating Representation.
(A) Except as stated in paragraph (C), a lawyer shall withdraw from representing a client if:
(1) Continuing the representation
will result in a course of conduct by the lawyer that is illegal or inconsistent
with the Disciplinary Rules; or
(D) Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take reasonable steps for the continued protection of a client's interests, including giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, delivering all papers and property to which the client is entitled, and refunding any advance payment of fee that has not been earned. The lawyer may retain papers relating to the client to the extent permitted by applicable law.
DR 7-101. Representing a Client
(A) A lawyer shall not intentionally:
(1) Fail to seek the lawful objectives of his client through reasonably available means permitted by law and the Disciplinary Rules, except as provided by DR 7-101(B). A lawyer does not violate this Disciplinary Rule, however, by acceding to reasonable requests of opposing counsel which do not prejudice the rights of his client, by being punctual in fulfilling all professional commitments, by avoiding offensive tactics, or by treating with courtesy and consideration all persons involved in the legal process.
(2) Fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but he may withdraw as permitted under DR 2-108, DR 5-102, and DR 5-105.
(3) Prejudice or damage his client during the course of the professional relationship, except as required under DR 4-101(D).
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.
(c) A lawyer shall not intentionally prejudice or damage a client during the course of the professional relationship, except as required or permitted under Rule 1.6 and Rule 3.3.
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 Representation
(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;
(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).
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;
It is hereby ORDERED that the Respondent's license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia is hereby suspended for a period of four years effective March 1, 2004.
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 cost.
ORDERED that pursuant to the provisions
of Part Six, § IV, ¶ 13(M) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia,
the Respondent shall give notice by certified mail, return receipt requested,
of this suspension to all clients for whom he is handling matters and to all
opposing attorneys and the presiding judges in pending litigation and that he
shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters that
are in his care in conformity with the wishes of his clients. The notice shall
be given within fourteen (14) days of the effective date of his suspension and
arrangements shall be made within forty-five (45) days of the effective date
of the suspension. Respondent shall also furnish proof to the Bar within sixty
(60) days of the effective date of his suspension that such notices have been
timely given and that such arrangements for the dispositions of matters have
been made. Issues concerning the adequacy of the notice and the arrangements
required herein shall be determined by the Disciplinary Board, or, alternatively,
by a three-judge circuit court, either of which tribunals may impose a sanction
of revocation or additional suspension for failure to comply with the requirements
of Part Six, § IV, ¶ 13(M) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Respondent shall furnish true copies of all of the notice letters sent to all
persons notified of the suspension, with the original return receipts for said
notice letters, to the Clerk of the Disciplinary System, on or before the sixtieth
(60th) day following the effective date of his suspension; and
It is further ORDERED that a copy teste of this Order shall be mailed by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, to the Respondent Peter John LaMarca, IV, at his address of record with the Virginia State Bar 1406 Winchester Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401-3653, and by regular first-class mail the Respondent's Counsel, Joseph A. C. Synan, Esquire, at 101 Lafayette Boulevard, Post Office Box 8448, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22404-8448, 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
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Robert L. Freed, Second Vice Chair