BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
IN THE MATTER OF
GEORGE ROBERT LEACH
VSB DOCKET NO. 01-060-1322
PUBLIC REPRIMAND WITH TERMS
This matter came on to be heard on August 20, 2003, upon an Agreed Disposition between the Virginia State Bar and the Respondent, George Robert Leach.
A duly convened panel of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board consisting of Thaddeus T. Crump, Lay Member; James L. Banks, Jr., Esq.; Peter A. Dingman, Esq.; Janipher Winkfield Robinson, Esq.; and Karen A. Gould, Esq., Vice Chair, presiding, considered the matter by telephone conference. Michael L. Rigsby, Esq., appeared as counsel for the Respondent. The Respondent, George Robert Leach, did not appear. Deputy Bar Counsel Harry M. Hirsch appeared for the Virginia State Bar.
Upon due deliberation, it is the decision of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board to accept the Agreed Disposition. The Stipulations of Fact, Disciplinary Rules violations and Disposition are incorporated herein as follows:
I. STIPULATIONS OF FACT
1. At all times relevant hereto the Respondent, George Robert Leach [Leach], has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. In or about November 1999, Complainant Susan Miller [Susan] and her husband Arthur Miller [Arthur][collectively, the Millers] first met with Leach for the purpose of filing and pursuing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At that first meeting the Millers paid Leach $300.00 and gave him certain documents and information. Leach gave the Millers a questionnaire to complete; he also advised that debts in favor of Transouth and Heilig Meyers should not be included in the bankruptcy as secured debts because the security could be repossessed.
3. The Millers had four secured debts: one in favor of Transouth regarding a truck, two in favor of Heilig Meyers regarding furniture and one in favor of Beneficial regarding a vacuum cleaner.
4. Subsequent to the first meeting, Susan completed the questionnaire, compiled requested information and went over each account with Leachs wife.
5. On or about December 1, 1999, Leach filed a bankruptcy case, docket number 99-53007 on behalf of the Millers [first case]. Frank Santoro [Santoro] was the trustee in the case.
6. Leach maintains that he sent to the Millers a letter dated December 3, 1999, informing them of the assigned case number, 99-53007, indicating that the remainder of the statements and bankruptcy schedules were due by December 16, 1999 and asking that the questionnaire be completed. The Millers did not receive this letter.
7. The remaining statements and schedules were due to be filed on or before December 16, 1999. Leach filed a Chapter 13 plan and related motions and notice on December 17, 1999.
8. At some point after the filing of the plan, the Millers received materials including a questionnaire and a notice from Santoro. The notice stated, inter alia:
Your first payment MUST be made within 30 days
of the date you filed your Chapter 13 plan with the
court. This may fall prior to your 341 hearing.
Failure to make this first payment on time will result
in the automatic dismissal of your case.
9. The Millers contacted Leach about what to do with the materials; they also did not know what the payment amount in their plan was. Leach informed the Millers not to worry about the package and he would give them their payment amount at the 341 meeting.
10. The 341 hearing or first meeting of creditors occurred on January 3, 2000. At the hearing Santoro gave the Millers a booklet which gave information about Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Santoro gave the Millers another 10 days to complete the questionnaire. Santoro also showed the Millers their plan which they had not seen before. Leach did not appear at this hearing. Instead, John Raymond, Esq. [Raymond] appeared for Leach.
11. Raymond advised the Millers that all of their secured debts should be included in their plan as secured debts including Transouth, two Heilig Meyers debts and Beneficial.
12. After the 341 hearing, the Millers contacted Leach and told him that they wished to include the truck and furniture debts as secured debts in the plan. Leach advised them the easiest way to do that was to let the current case be dismissed and refile a new one. Leach also advised the Millers not to make any payments on the plan while waiting for the case to be dismissed.
13. Santoro filed objections to confirmation of the first plan which were heard on March 10, 2000. As a result of the hearing, Leach either had to amend the current plan or allow the case to be dismissed and refile.
14. The Millers provided Leach with additional financial information in a memo dated April 5, 2000.
15. On May 1, 2000, a consent order was entered in the bankruptcy sustaining certain objections to confirmation, denying confirmation of the plan and requiring the filing of a modified plan by March 23, 2000 or the case would be dismissed.
16. The first bankruptcy case, number 99-53007, was dismissed on June 14, 2000.
17. Leach filed a second bankruptcy case for the Millers, number 00-51538 [second case], on June 16, 2000. A Chapter 13 plan, related motions, schedules and statement of financial affairs were filed by Leach on July 3, 2000. George Neal [Neal] was the assigned trustee.
18. A 341 hearing was held in the second case on August 7, 2000. At that time, Neal provided the Millers with the amount of the required payment, when they were due, and that the first payment was overdue, i.e., an initial payment on the plan had not been made within thirty days of the filing of the plan. According to the Millers, Leach again had not provided them with a copy of the plan or the payment amount in the second case before the 341 hearing.
19. On or about August 10, 2000, Neal filed a certificate of failure to commence payments and the second case was dismissed on August 11, 2000, for failure to pay the initial plan payment.
20. Upon receipt of notice of the dismissal of the second case, the Millers telephoned Leach who admitted the dismissal was his fault and he would refile again. Leach denies the admission and asserts that the Millers simply failed to save their money so they could have made the initial payment.
21. On August 18, 2000, Leach filed a Motion to Vacate Order of Dismissal seeking reinstatement of the case on the court docket on the basis that, It was unclear to the Debtors exactly when their first payment was due and consequently they did not set aside sufficient monies to make this payment.
22. Leach filed a third Chapter 13 bankruptcy on behalf of the Millers, number 00-52045 [third case], on August 15, 2000. His application to pay the filing fee in installments was approved on August 17, 2000. Leach filed the Chapter 13 plan and related motions on August 31, 2000.
23. A 341 hearing was held in the third case on October 2, 2000.
24. Neal filed objections to confirmation of the plan. Transouth also filed objections to confirmation of the plan, one of which was that no proof of insurance coverage for the truck had been provided. Transouth also filed a motion for relief from the bankruptcy stay.
25. With respect to the insurance on the truck, the Millers had a telephone conversation with Leach in which he instructed them to put Transouth on the insurance policy for the truck as the insured. Susan questioned Leach why Arthur should not remain as the insured since he was the primary driver; but Leach insisted that Transouth should be the insured on the policy. After contacting the insurance company directly, Susan learned that Transouth should be listed as the loss payee which was then effected.
26. On November 17, 2000, a hearing was held on the objections to confirmation. Neals objections were sustained. The Millers were given 10 days within which to file an amended plan and the Millers were ordered to provide Transouth with evidence of insurance by 5 p.m. that date or relief from the stay would be granted to Transouth.
27. On November 22, 2000, Susan filed a complaint with the Virginia State Bar.
28. On November 27, 2000, an order was entered denying the motion for relief from stay filed by Transouth and denying confirmation of the plan filed in the third case.
29. On November 30, 2000, Leach filed an amended plan in the third case with related motions.
30. Transouth filed a proposed order granting it a relief from the bankruptcy stay because Leach had not yet provided the required evidence of insurance as previously ordered. A relief from the stay would have allowed Transouth to take possession of the truck. On December 11, 2000, Leach filed a letter objection to entry of the proposed order. A hearing on the matter was held on December 15, 2000 at which time Leach appeared and gave counsel for Transouth the required evidence of insurance.
31. Neal and Transouth filed objections to confirmation of the amended plan in the third case. On January 23, 2001, after receipt of the bar complaint, Leach filed a motion to substitute John Raymond as counsel for the Millers.
32. On January 26, 2001, a hearing was held on the objections to the amended plan and the motion for substitution of counsel. Neals objections to confirmation of the plan were sustained and an order substituting Raymond as counsel was entered.
33. On January 31, 2001, confirmation of the amended plan was denied.
34. On February 2, 2001, Raymond filed amended schedules, statements and a modified plan on behalf of the Millers.
35. On April 3, 2001, a consent order was entered settling the motion for relief from stay of Transouth based upon evidence of proof of insurance. The consent order included language as follows:
...in the event the...case is dismissed by reason of the Debtors failure to pay the required payments to the ...trustee pursuant to the terms of any and all plans confirmed in this case or by reason of any other failure ...to comply with the terms of such plans and/or should this case be converted to a case under any other chapter..., Transouth ...shall be granted immediate relief from the ...stay without further order of this Court...
36. The modified plan filed by Raymond was confirmed in June of 2001.
II. DISCIPLINARY RULES
The above factual stipulations include conduct which constitute violations of the following provisions of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility and the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct:
DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.
(A) A lawyer shall undertake representation only in matters in which:
(1) The lawyer can act with competence and demonstrate the specific legal knowledge, skill, efficiency, and thoroughness in preparation employed in acceptable practice by lawyers undertaking similar matters, or
(2) The lawyer has associated with another lawyer who is competent in those matters.
(B) A lawyer shall attend promptly to matters undertaken for a client until completed or until the lawyer has properly and completely withdrawn from representing the client.
(C) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about matters in which the lawyers services are being rendered.
RULE 1.1 Competence
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
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.
Upon consideration whereof, the Board hereby issues a Public Reprimand with Terms to the Respondent, George Robert Leach, effective upon entry of this Order. The terms of the disposition, which shall be a predicate for the disposition of a Public Reprimand with Terms shall be complied with by November 1, 2003. Said terms are as follows:
1. Respondent shall attend and complete six hours of continuing legal education on the subject of representation of debtors in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Said hours shall be in addition to those hours which the Respondent must attend in order to fulfill his mandatory continuing legal education requirements for licensure.
2. Respondent shall attend and complete four hours of continuing legal education on the subject of legal ethics. Said hours shall be in addition to those hours which the Respondent must attend in order to fulfill his mandatory continuing legal education requirements for licensure.
3. Respondent shall certify in writing to Deputy Bar Counsel Harry M. Hirsch that he has attended and completed said additional continuing legal education as stated above.
Subsequent to the approval of the Agreed Disposition and before entry of an order, it was noted that the Agreed Disposition did not contain an alternate sanction. The parties, by endorsement of counsel hereon, agree to an alternate sanction of a Sixty Day Suspension in the event there is a lack of compliance with the terms herein. The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board accepts the alternate sanction.
Pursuant to Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13.B.8.c.of the Rules of the Supreme Court, the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs.
The court reporter who transcribed the telephone conference on August 20, 2003, was Theresa Griffith, Chandler & Halasz, P.O. Box 9349, Richmond, VA 23227.
A copy teste of this Order shall be served upon the Respondent, George Robert Leach by certified mail, return receipt requested at 1311 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185, his address of record with the Virginia State Bar; and mailed by first class mail to Michael L. Rigsby, Esq., counsel for the Respondent; and delivered by hand to Deputy Bar Counsel Harry M. Hirsch at the Virginia State Bar.
ENTERED THIS ______DAY OF ____________, 2003
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Karen A. Gould, Vice Chair
Michael L. Rigsby
Counsel for George Robert Leach
Harry M. Hirsch
Deputy Bar Counsel