V I R G I N I A:



BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD


IN THE MATTER OF

SHARON BETH SOLOWAY, ESQUIRE



VSB Docket Numbers 00-053-3185, 01-053-2523 , 02-053-2329

 

AGREED DISPOSITION


On this _____ day of September, 2003, come Seth M. Guggenheim, Esquire, counsel for the Virginia State Bar, and Respondent's counsel, David Ross Rosenfeld, Esquire, with full authority of his client to execute this document on her behalf, and tender the following Agreed Disposition:

A. STIPULATION OF FACTS

1. At all times relevant hereto, Sharon Beth Soloway, Esquire (hereafter "Respondent"), has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As to VSB Docket No. 00-053-3185:

2. On or about December 13, 1996, Ms. Ernestine McNeil (hereafter "Complainant") of Brockton, Massachusetts, was injured while a passenger in an automobile being operated in Fairfax County, Virginia. The Complainant received hospital emergency room care following the accident, and thereafter received medical care for a period of time in her home state of Massachusetts.

3. Shortly following the time of the accident, the Complainant engaged the Respondent to represent her in her personal injury claim arising out of the accident.

4. The Respondent wrote to the Complainant on July 30, 1998, stating, inter alia, that the "[t]otal medical costs incurred for this accident appear to be $2591.48" and that she, the Respondent, "would suggest settling this matter in the range of $4,500.00 to $7,000.00." The Complainant responded with her own letter to the Respondent's letter on August 7, 1998, authorizing a settlement within the identified range.

5. Following the Complainant's receipt of the Respondent's letter of July 30, 1998, the Complainant never heard again from the Respondent concerning her case, despite the Complainant's repeated telephone and written attempts to secure information, as well as a copy of her case file, from the Respondent.

6. The Virginia State Bar received a Complaint concerning this matter on June 9, 2000. On June 21, 2000, Bar Counsel directed a letter of that date to Respondent, enclosing a copy of the Complaint, and stating, inter alia, in bold and underlined text, the following: "please review the complaint and provide this office with a written answer, including an original and one copy of your response and all attached exhibits, within twenty-one (21) days of the date of this letter." The Respondent failed to file a written response to the Complaint with the Bar as required by the said letter, either within twenty-one (21) days, or at any time thereafter.

7. The Virginia State Bar's investigation of this matter revealed, inter alia, that: a. the Respondent filed a Motion for Judgment on Complainant's behalf in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Circuit Court on December 11, 1998.

b. a status conference was conducted by the Court on April 1, 1999, but the conference was continued due to lack of service of process upon the defendant in the action;

c. the Court entered a non-suit in the case, bearing Respondent's endorsement, on June 24, 1999.

8. As of the time that Complainant sent her Complaint to the Virginia State Bar on or about May 30, 2000, she had not been made aware by the Respondent of any of the facts set forth above in Paragraph 7 although Respondent would testify that she mailed a copy of the complaint to Complainant and that Respondent communicated with Complainant's children regarding Complainant's matter.

9. In addition to her failure to communicate with the Complainant following the Respondent's aforesaid letter respecting settlement, the Respondent also failed to respond on Complainant's behalf to Complainant's health care providers' requests for information concerning the status of Complainant's claim, thus subjecting Complainant to debt collection demands.

10. The Complainant received no funds in settlement of her personal injury claim, and she never received the requested copy of her file.

11. Respondent has voluntarily made restitution to Complainant in the amount of $5,000.00.

As to VSB Docket No. 01-053-2523:

12. On or about December 13, 1994, Mr. James H. Allen (hereafter "Complainant") retained the Respondent to represent him in an employment discrimination complaint against the United States Department of Agriculture.

13. The Respondent represented the Complainant before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which rendered a final decision adverse to the Complainant on February 9, 1999. The decision contained a "right to sue" provision which authorized Complainant to file a civil action in a Federal district court.

14. On May 28, 1999, the Respondent filed a Complaint on Complainant's behalf in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

15. The Respondent failed to heed two warnings given by the Court that she had failed to effect service upon the defendant in the case. The Respondent had delivered a copy of the Complaint to the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, when service upon the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia was required.

16. In response to a motion to dismiss the Complaint for want of service, the Respondent moved for leave to permit late service upon the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

17. On January 12, 2000, a United States magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the Complainant's case on the basis of Respondent's failure to effect service of process. Among other things the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation contained the following observations:

Plaintiff was given two warnings that service had not been properly effectuated under the rules, yet neither was heeded. When these warnings issued, plaintiff, by counsel, had the option to reissue process as is required under the rule or move to enlarge the time in which to serve the defendant properly. Instead, plaintiff did nothing, and by failing to do anything cannot be said to have acted diligently to protect his interests in the case. Certainly, then, any failure to effectuate service was not caused by some uncontrollable, external event.



* * * [T]he plaintiff has failed to make even the most basic effort to comply with Rules 4(i) or 4(m), and should suffer the consequences.

18. United States District Judge James H. Michael, Jr., adopted the magistrate judge's report in its entirety, and dismissed the Complainant's federal case on March 28, 2000.

19. During the pendency of the federal suit, the Respondent failed to communicate with the Complainant concerning the status of the matter, despite his repeated requests for information. The Respondent did not advise the Complainant that his case had been dismissed. The Complainant learned that his case had been dismissed only after he had contacted the Court directly in the face of Respondent's persistent failure to return his phone calls or answer his letters to her.

20. The Complainant tendered sums aggregating $2,500.00 to the Respondent as legal fees and costs. The Complainant demanded a refund following the court's dismissal of his case, as aforesaid. The Respondent has neither provided the Complainant with a refund of any portion of the sums paid to her nor rendered an appropriate accounting to the Complainant of legal fees and/or expenses to which sums paid might have been applied. The Complainant did, however, on his own recover legal fees as part of the resolution of his claim against the government.

As to VSB Docket No. 02-053-2329:

21. On or about April 21, 1994, the Respondent undertook representation of Mr. Louis B. Proffitt, II, in an employment discrimination complaint against the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As of the time Mr. Proffitt retained Respondent, he had Equal Employment Opportunity Commission grievances pending against his said employer.

22. At the time he retained Respondent, Mr. Proffitt paid her the sum of $2,000.00. Respondent would testify that these funds were paid into the account of Respondent's prior employer, Martin & Arif, L.L.P. Mr. Proffit would further testify that on two separate occasions, Mr. Proffitt made cash payments to the Respondent in the sums of $500.00 and $700.00 respectively, which Respondent would deny.

23. During the course of Respondent's representation of Mr. Proffitt, which spanned the period between April 21, 1994, and September 3, 1999, she, among other things,

24. On September 3, 1999, Mr. Proffitt wrote to Respondent, terminating her services, requesting the return of his file materials, and demanding a refund of sums paid. The Respondent never responded to Mr. Proffitt's letter.

25. Mr. Proffitt subsequently retained the services of a different attorney who, on August 7, 2001, faxed to the Respondent a letter requesting transfer of all of Mr. Proffitt's file materials to him, as successor counsel, and confirming that Mr. Proffitt had that same week left messages for the Respondent requesting that his file materials be transmitted to successor counsel. The Respondent did not ever reply to successor counsel or Mr. Profffitt or furnish Mr. Proffitt's file materials as requested in successor counsel's letter and the messages left by Mr. Proffitt for the Respondent.

26. The Respondent has neither provided Mr. Proffitt with a refund of any portion of the sums paid to her nor rendered an appropriate accounting to Mr. Proffitt of legal fees and/or expenses to which sums paid might have been applied.

27. Mr. Proffitt's successor counsel took his case to a trial by jury, following which a United States district judge entered an order awarding Mr. Proffitt in excess of $1,000,000.00.

B. STIPULATION OF MISCONDUCT

Respondent's aforesaid conduct constitutes a violation of the following provisions of the revised Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility and of the Rules of Professional Conduct:

DR 2-108. Terminating Representation.

C. STIPULATION OF DISPOSITION