IN THE MATTERS OF
JOSEPH BRIAN SHERIDAN VSB Docket No. 02-000-1323
Respondent 99-021-1074 99-021-2093
On the 17TH day of January, 2002, a telephonic hearing in this matter was held before a duly convened panel of the Board consisting of Robert L. Freed, Esquire, Joseph R. Lassiter, Jr., Esquire, H. Taylor Williams, IV, Esquire, Mr. Chester J. Cahoon, Jr., (Lay Member), and Randy Ira Bellows, Esquire, Chair presiding.
The Virginia State Bar, by its Assistant Bar Counsel Paul D. Georgiadis, the Respondent Joseph Brian Sheridan, and Respondent's Guardian Ad Litem Elliott P. Park tendered an Agreed Disposition to the Board.
Having reviewed the tendered Agreed Disposition, the Board accepts the Agreed Disposition and hereby
ORDERS that effective January 17, 2002, the law license of Respondent Joseph Brian Sheridan be and hereby is SUSPENDED indefinitely pursuant to Pt. 6, ßIV, Para.13(F), of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia on the grounds that the Respondent suffers from a Disability as set forth in Pt. 6, ßIV, Para.13(A), of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, as further set forth below and in the manner set forth below:
1. During all times relevant hereto, the Respondent, Joseph Brian Sheridan ("Sheridan") has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. Respondent began to use cocaine in December, 1996. His use thereafter grew
to a nearly daily habit. By the summer of 1997, Respondent's use of cocaine had caused him to miss case deadlines and to miss court appearances. By the summer of 1998, Respondent's continued cocaine use led to the dissolution of his law partnership. On July 6, 1999, Respondent admitted himself to the Farley Center for substance abuse evaluation and treatment. Notwithstanding the Farley Center treatment, Respondent relapsed in the fall of 1999, failing two drug screening tests. Respondent's substance abuse has continued.
3. On May 26, 1998, Antonio Cowell was sentenced by the Virginia Beach Circuit
Court to 15 years incarceration with 10 years suspended.
4. On or about July 14, 1998, Cowell's grandmother Mildred V. Coins retained Respondent by paying him $250.00 of a $500.00 fee to file a motion for sentence modification.
5. Respondent deposited the $250.00 into an account that was not his escrow account.
6. Unbeknownst to Respondent, Cowell's appointed lawyer John T. Callahan, III had filed a motion to modify the sentence with the Court on June 4, 1998. The motion was denied by letter order dated June 8, 1998.
7. On or about July 22, 1998, Cowell was transferred from the Virginia Beach City Jail to the Haynesville Correctional Center.
8. Respondent failed to file any motion for sentence modification for Mr. Cowell.
9. From July 18, 1998 through the end of August 1998, Cowell's grandmother Coins repeatedly telephoned Respondent and left messages inquiring about the status of the matter.
10. Notwithstanding said inquiries, Respondent failed to inform Coins about the status of the case.
11. On April 4, 1997, Respondent was appointed to represent Monte E. Congleton on
charges pending before the Norfolk Circuit Court.
12. Following Congleton's trial and conviction, the Court granted Respondent's
request to withdraw and replaced him with other appointed counsel.
13. On or about November 2, 1998, Congleton wrote to Respondent and requested his
entire file. Respondent did not reply to said request until March 9, 1999, well after Congleton filed the instant complaint with the VSB.
14. In December, 1996, Respondent began to use cocaine. His use grew to a nearly daily habit.
15. By the summer of 1997, Respondent's use of cocaine had caused him to miss case deadlines and to miss court appearances.
16. By the Summer of 1988, Respondent's continued cocaine use led to the dissolution of his law partnership. Respondent practiced out of his residence and failed to advise the Courts of his new address so that the Courts were unable to contact him regarding pending cases.
17. On or about August 25, 1998, the Norfolk Circuit Court removed Respondent from his appointment as counsel in two pending cases and suspended him from future appointments as counsel in criminal matters.
18. On or about September 30, 1998, Respondent advised the Honorable Charles E. Poston of his cocaine addiction.
19. On January 30, 1999, Respondent executed a Rehabilitation Agreement with the Tidewater Committee of Lawyers Helping Lawyers ("LHL").
20. In spite of the Rehabilitation Agreement with LHL, Respondent tested positive for cocaine use on one or more occasions in the Spring of 1999.
21. On or about May 14, 1999, a Show Cause summons was issued for Respondent's failure to appear in court. Respondent pled guilty on July 23, 1999 and was given community service to perform in order to purge the contempt, which was thereafter dismissed.
22. On July 6, 1999, Respondent admitted himself to the Farley Center for substance abuse treatment, following the determination of Tidewater LHL that it had exhausted all avenues to structure a recovery for Respondent. Farley discharged Respondent on or about August 18, 1999 following in-patient treatment.
23. On or about October 14, 1999, Respondent signed another Rehabilitation Agreement with LHL.
24. Notwithstanding the October Rehabilitation Agreement, Respondent's relapse on one or more occasions brought a warning on November 11, 1999 from LHL.
25. By December, 1999, Respondent had failed at least two drug screening tests and as a consequence lost his LHL sponsor.
26. On or about April 26, 2000, LHL terminated its agreement with Respondent on the grounds of non-compliance with the terms of the LHL Rehabilitation Agreement. LHL found that Respondent was experiencing difficulties with being able to sustain a long period of sobriety without relapse.
27. Following an automobile accident on August 7, 1996, Robert C. Holland retained Respondent.
28. On August 7, 1998, Respondent filed a Warrant in Debt for $14,000. The defendant removed the matter to Norfolk Circuit Court on September 16, 1998. After defendant's September, 1998 discovery remained unanswered, defendant filed a motion to compel. Respondent agreed by telephone to the entry of an order requiring responses on or before January 18, 1999. Thereafter, a scheduling order was entered on March 5, 1999 setting the matter for trial on September 8, 1999.
31. On July 6, 1999, Respondent was admitted to the Farley Center for inpatient substance abuse treatment. He was discharged on September 18, 1999.
32. On July 22, 1999, defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss based upon Respondent's failure to comply with the Scheduling Order. The motion prompted Respondent to ask attorney Andrew Sebok to take over the case as well as other cases he was handling. At this time, Respondent did not notify Holland of the pending motion or his inability to continue handling the case. Nor did Respondent move to withdraw and substitute counsel or to add counsel. Thereafter, Sebok filed a Motion for Nonsuit that was entered on September 3, 1999.
The Board finds that such conduct on the part of Respondent constitutes misconduct in violation of the following Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility and Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct :
DR 1-102. Misconduct.
(A) A lawyer shall not:
(3) Commit a crime or other deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law.
RULE 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
DR 6-101. Competence and Promptness.
(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 lawyer's services are being rendered.
RULE 1.3 Diligence
DR 9-102. Preserving Identity of Funds and Property of a Client.
(A) All funds received or held by a lawyer or law firm on behalf of a client, estate or a ward, residing in this State or from a transaction arising in this State, other than reimbursement of advances for costs and expenses, shall be deposited in one or more identifiable trust accounts and, as to client funds, maintained at a financial institution in a state in which the lawyer maintains a law office, 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.
(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 they are 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.
DR 2-108. Terminating Representation.
(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.
Effective January 17, 2002 the law license of the Respondent is hereby
SUSPENDED indefinitely from the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Virginia for an indefinite period of time because of the aforesaid Disability, in accordance with Paragraph 13(F). The suspension shall be terminated only upon determination by the Board that the disability no longer exists.
The Board further
ORDERS the dismissal without prejudice for exceptional circumstances of the above-styled cases of misconduct now pending against the Respondent, being VSB Docket Nos. 99-021-1074 (Coins), 99-021-2093 (Congleton), 99-021-3211(Poston), and 00-021-1679 (Holland). Notwithstanding the dismissal without prejudice of said cases, the Board may impose discipline for the found misconduct and found violations in the event the Respondent's license to practice law is restored.
The Board further
ORDERS that its prior Order of Examination and Release of Medical Records entered January 10, 2002 be and is hereby
By agreement of the parties, this hearing was recorded by the Virginia Department of Information Technology.
It is ORDERED pursuant to the provisions of Part Six, ß IV, Paragraph 13(K)(1) of
the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, that the Respondent shall forthwith give notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, of the suspension of his license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to all clients for whom he is currently handling matters and to all opposing attorneys and presiding judges in pending litigation. The Respondent shall also make appropriate arrangements for the disposition of matters then in his care in conformity with the wishes of his clients. The Respondent shall give such notice within fourteen (14) days of the effective date of the suspension order, and make such arrangements as are required herein within forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the suspension order. The Respondent shall furnish proof to the bar within sixty (60) days of the effective date of the suspension order that such notices have been timely given and such arrangement for the disposition of matters made. Issues concerning the adequacy of the notice and arrangements required herein shall be determined by the Disciplinary Board, which may impose a sanction of revocation or suspension for failure to comply with the requirements of this subparagraph.
It is further ORDERED that Joseph Brian Sheridan 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 March 18, 2002.
A copy teste of this Order shall be served via certified mail, return receipt requested, upon the Respondent, Joseph Brian Sheridan, 8651 Devon Street, Norfolk, Virginia 23503,
his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, and by regular mail to his Guardian Ad Litem, Elliott P. Park, Esquire, Park And Company, 1011 East Main Street, Suite 300, Richmond, Virginia 23219, and by hand to Paul D. Georgiadis, Assistant Bar Counsel, at the Virginia State Bar.
ENTERED THIS _____DAY OF _______________, 2002
THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Randy Ira Bellows, Second Vice Chair