BEFORE THE FIFTH DISTRICT SECTION II COMMITTEE
OF THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR
IN THE MATTER OF RONALD ALBERT ROBINSON, JR., ESQ.
VSB DOCKET NUMBER 03-052-1294
PUBLIC REPRIMAND WITH TERMS
On January 20, 2004, a hearing in this matter was held before the duly convened Fifth District Committee Section II consisting of Thomas P. Sotelo, Esq., Donald Francis King, Esq., Daniel M. Rathbun, Esq., Joseph C. Fleig, William V. Hanson, John DiZeriga, and Stephen H. Ratliff, Esq., presiding.
Pursuant to Part 6, §IV, ¶ 13(B)(6) of the rules of the Supreme Court, the Fifth District Committee Section II of the Virginia State Bar hereby serves upon the Respondent the following Public Reprimand with Terms:
I. FINDINGS OF FACT
1. At all times relevant hereto the Respondent, Ronald Albert Robinson, Jr., Esq. (hereinafter the Respondent), has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. The Complainant, Julieanne Hessler, and her husband hired the Respondent to assist them in filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. They provided the Respondent with the information he requested in September of 2001. Mrs. Hessler called the Respondent repeatedly to find out if the petition had been filed. Mrs. Hessler and her husband wished to stop the harassing telephone calls from creditors as soon as possible. The Respondent did not return Mrs. Hesslerís calls. Mr. and Mrs. Hessler learned from the Respondentís assistant that their petition was filed on November 21, 2001.
3. A 341 hearing was held in the Hesslers= case on December 27, 2001. The Trustee informed the Respondent that he needed to file a homestead deed to protect the Hesslers= retirement funds and bank accounts within five days of the hearing. At that time, the Trustee also asked the Respondent for more information regarding the Hesslersí retirement accounts. The Respondent told the Hesslers that he would file the homestead deed as required to exempt their retirement account and bank account funds. Mrs. Hessler called the Respondent=s office several times to check on the filing and was informed that the Respondent had filed the homestead deed properly. In fact, the Respondent filed the homestead deed late.
4. In late January of 2002, the Hesslers received a notice from the Bankruptcy Court that the Trustee had filed an objection to their exemptions claimed under the homestead deed, and were given a date to appear in court. The Hesslers called the Respondent=s office numerous times in attempts to learn what the notice meant. Finally, a few days before the date of their court appearance, the Respondent informed them that they did not have to go to court and that all was fine.
5. On February 26, 2002, the Trusteeís motion was heard and granted, denying the Hesslersí claimed exemptions because their homestead deed had been filed late. Neither the Respondent nor the Hesslers were present for the hearing.
6. The Hesslers received a discharge in bankruptcy on March 7, 2002. However, on March 11, 2002, the trustee wrote to the Respondent asking that the Hesslers send the Trustee $2,800.00, the amount originally believed to be not exempt because of the Respondentís failure to file the homestead deed in a timely manner. In addition, the Trustee requested date of filing statements for the retirement accounts and bank account listed in the late-filed homestead deed.
7. On April 2, 2002, having not received the money or the requested items from the Respondent, the Trustee wrote to the Respondent again stating he would request a show cause against the Hesslers and that their discharge be revoked if he did not receive the requested items by April 8, 2002.
8. Concerned about the letters from the Trustee, the Hesslers contacted the Respondent who advised them not to pay the Trustee, and that he, the Respondent, would resolve the issue. However, concerned that the Respondent was not doing anything to solve the problem which he had created, the Hesslers called the Trustee themselves and began making installment payments on the amount owed.
9. After repeated efforts by the Trustee to collect the full amount owed and obtain correct information from the Respondent, the Trustee wrote the Respondent a letter dated November 4, 2002, outlining his failed efforts to work with the Respondent. He informed the Respondent that if he had not received full payment by November 13, 2002, he would file a request for the issuance of a rule to show cause for contempt against the Hesslers and request that their discharge be revoked.
10. Concerned about the Trusteeís letter of November 4, 2002 and the advice they were receiving from the Respondent, the Hesslers hired another attorney. The Hesslersí new attorney negotiated a settlement with the Respondent, dated April 24, 2003, whereby the Respondent agreed to pay the amount owed to the Trustee because of the Respondentís failure to
file the homestead deed in a timely manner. The amount due to the Trustee was paid by the Respondent.
II. NATURE OF MISCONDUCT
The Committee finds by clear and convincing evidence that the following Disciplinary Rules have been violated:
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.
III. PUBLIC REPRIMAND WITH TERMS
Accordingly, it is the decision of the Committee to impose a Public Reprimand with Terms, compliance with which by December 31, 2004 shall be a predicate for the disposition of this complaint by imposition of a Public Reprimand with Terms. The terms and conditions which shall be met by December 31, 2004 are:
1. The Respondent shall pay to the Complainant $1068.75 within sixty days of the date of this Committee Determination as reimbursement for costs expended by the Complainants. The Respondent shall provide the assistant Bar Counsel handling this matter with satisfactory proof that he has done so.
2. The Respondent shall forthwith engage the services of and fully cooperate with a law office management consultant acceptable to the Bar, to conduct a full and complete review and make written recommendations concerning the Respondent=s law practice policies, methods, systems, and procedures, including, but not limited to, his billing practices, scheduling, tickler/calendaring systems which remind him of important dates, and a system for monitoring possible conflicts. The Respondent shall institute and thereafter follow with consistency any and all recommendations made to him by the approved law office management consultant following the evaluation of the Respondent=s practice. The Respondent shall grant the law office management consultant access to his law practice from time to time, upon request, for purposes of ensuring that Respondent has instituted and is complying with the law office management consultantís recommendations. The Virginia State Bar shall have access (by way of telephone conferences and/or written reports) to the law office management consultantís findings and recommendations, as well as the assessment of the Respondent=s level of compliance with the recommendations. Respondent will have discharged his obligations respecting the terms contained in this Paragraph 2 if he has fulfilled and remained in compliance with all of the terms contained herein through December 31, 2004.
Upon satisfactory proof that the above noted terms and conditions have been met, a Public Reprimand with Terms shall then be imposed. If, however, the terms and conditions have not been met by December 31, 2004, the matter shall be certified to the State Bar Disciplinary
Board upon the facts and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct as stated herein for the sole propose of the imposition of an alternative sanction.
Pursuant to Part Six, § IV, ¶ 13(B)(8)(c)(1) of the Rules of the Supreme Court, the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall assess costs.
FIFTH DISTRICT COMMITTEE SECTION II
OF THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR
Stephen H. Ratliff, Chair
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I certify that I have this _____ day of ___________________________, 2004, mailed a true and correct copy of the Committee Determination of a Public Reprimand with Terms by CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED, to the Respondent, Ronald Albert Robinson, Jr., at P.O. Box 4987, Woodbridge, VA 22194, his last address of record with the Virginia State Bar.
Noel D. Sengel