IN THE MATTER OF
STEVEN PAUL HANNA
VSB DOCKET NO. 01-032-1083
On September 14, 2001, a hearing in this matter was held before a duly convened Third District Committee, Section Two, panel consisting of Rev. W. Ray Inscoe, Lay Member; William S. Francis, Esq.; Richard K. Newman, Esq.; Edward E. Scher, Esq.; Cary A. Ralston, Esq.; William J. Viverette, Esq.; and Virginia S. Duvall, Esq., Chair, presiding.
Steven Paul Hanna, Esq. appeared in person, pro se. Deputy Bar Counsel Harry M. Hirsch appeared on behalf of the Virginia State Bar.
Pursuant to Rules of Court Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13(B)(7), the Third District Committee, Section Two, of the Virginia State Bar hereby serves upon the Respondent the following Public Reprimand:
1. At all times relevant hereto, the Respondent Stephen Paul Hanna [Hanna], has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. In or about March of 1997, Complainant Charles C. Williams, Jr. [Williams] retained Hanna to obtain the expungement of criminal records in an action in the City of Richmond. Williams' record to be expunged consisted of two 1976 state convictions of uttering and forging and 1976 federal convictions for bank fraud and embezzlement. The retainer agreement recited a fee of $750.00, of which $375.00 was due immediately and $375.00 was due within thirty days. In or about the end of March 1997, Williams paid Hanna a retainer fee.
3. Having heard nothing from Hanna by the summer of 1999, and having assumed that Hanna had completed the representation, Williams realized that he needed to get confirmation from Hanna that his criminal record had been expunged. Williams attempted to contact Hanna by telephone. After many unanswered calls, Hanna returned one of Williams' calls. In the telephone call Hanna told Williams he would have to retrieve his file for Williams in order to be able to tell Williams what the result was of the representation. Because Williams was about to take a trip, Hanna agreed to send Williams the results of the representation by electronic mail.
4. Upon returning from his trip in November 1999, and not having received any communication from Hanna about the representation, Williams attempted to reach Hanna by telephone and electronic mail.
5. Hanna sent Williams a piece of electronic mail in January 2000 indicating that because of bad weather he had not retrieved Williams' file.
6. Williams contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] to determine whether Hanna had expunged his criminal record. The information which Williams received from the FBI led Williams to believe that Hanna had not accomplished the expungement of Williams' criminal record. After repeated unanswered telephone calls to Hanna, Williams was finally able to contact Hanna and inform him of the information which had been obtained from the FBI. Hanna then scheduled an appointment with Williams in July 2000.
7. At the July meeting Williams explained what he was trying to accomplish and showed Hanna a copy of the FBI material. Hanna indicated that he still had not found his file in the representation and asked Williams to leave his FBI reports with Hanna. Williams explained to Hanna that because the reports had been difficult to obtain, he did not want to lose them. Because Hanna stated that he would be able to work quicker on the matter if he had the reports, Williams left the FBI reports with Hanna.
8. During the following weeks, Williams received two telephone calls and one piece of electronic mail from Hanna reporting on the representation. Thereafter, Williams was unable to contact Hanna despite repeated efforts to do so by telephone or electronic mail. In his telephone messages to Hanna, Williams indicated that if Hanna was unable to handle the representation, Williams simply wanted Hanna to return the FBI reports.
9. Williams filed his bar complaint in November 2000.
10. By letter dated February 16, 2001, the Secretary of the Commonwealth answered Hanna's request for information concerning procedures to obtain a simple pardon. In the letter it was pointed out that a simple pardon amounts to official forgiveness for the crime committed; it does not erase a conviction from a criminal record. It appears that a copy of this letter was not sent to Williams.
11. By letter dated February 17, 2001, Hanna wrote to Governor James S. Gilmore asking that the letter be considered a petition for a simple pardon. It appears that this letter was not copied to Williams.
12. On or about February 17, 2001, Hanna wrote Williams enclosing a copy of the letter to Governor Gilmore. Hanna also noted that he would file a petition for a writ of mandamus.
13. By letter dated February 21, 2001, the Secretary of the Commonwealth wrote Hanna indicating that the governor had no authority to grant a pardon with respect to a federal criminal conviction. The letter ends with the following two sentences:
I regret that my response cannot be more favorable, but hope
this information will be helpful to you. If this office can be
of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
It appears that a copy of this letter was not sent to Williams.
14. Hanna responded to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by his letter dated February 26, 2001 in which he pointed out the fact that Williams had two state convictions as well as the federal conviction. It appears that this letter was not copied to Williams.
15. By his letter dated March 8, 2001, Hanna wrote Williams enclosing a partial refund of "the standard fee previously paid" and indicating that a portion was being kept for future costs and the remaining balance would be refunded." The refund was paid by a check dated March 8, 2001 in the amount of $600.00 on an account denoted as "Steven P. Hanna Attorney at Law" at Central Virginia Bank. Hanna also stated in the letter that "I have held off filing anything because there may be a glitch with the Governor's office."
16. Hanna drafted a petition for a writ of mandamus in which he asked that the court order that Williams' criminal record be changed to reflect the two state convictions were misdemeanors and not felonies.
17. Williams has not received from Hanna the FBI reports which he asked Hanna to return to him. On information and belief, Williams' criminal record has not been expunged.
Such conduct by Steven Paul Hanna constitutes misconduct in violation of the following provisions of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility and the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property
(4) promptly pay or deliver to the client or another as requested by such person the funds, securities, or other properties in the possession of the lawyer which such person is entitled to receive.
RULE 1.16 Declining Or Terminating Representation
(e) All original, client-furnished documents and any originals of legal instruments or official documents which are in the lawyer's possession (wills, corporate minutes, etc.) are the property of the client and shall be returned to the client upon request, whether or not the client has paid the fees and costs owed the lawyer. If the lawyer wants to keep a copy of such original documents, the lawyer must incur the cost of duplication. Upon request, the client must also be provided copies of the following documents from the lawyer's file, whether or not the client has paid the fees and costs owed the lawyer: lawyer/client and lawyer/third-party communications; the lawyer's copies of client-furnished documents (unless the originals have been returned to the client pursuant to this paragraph); pleadings and discovery responses; working and final drafts of legal instruments, official documents, investigative reports, legal memoranda, and other attorney work product documents prepared for the client in the course of the representation; research materials; and bills previously submitted to the client. Although the lawyer may bill and seek to collect from the client the costs associated with making a copy of these materials, the lawyer may not use the client's refusal to pay for such materials as a basis to refuse the client's request. The lawyer, however, is not required under this Rule to provide the client copies of billing records and documents intended only for internal use, such as memoranda prepared by the lawyer discussing conflicts of interest, staffing considerations, or difficulties arising from the lawyer/client relationship.
Accordingly, it is the decision of the district committee to impose a public reprimand and the Respondent is so reprimanded.
The district committee also expresses its concern that Mr. Hanna needs to have the benefit of a mentor in his law practice and strongly urges him to find a lawyer who is willing to serve as his mentor in order to improve the manner and methods by which Mr.
Hanna practices law.
Third District Committee, Section Two,
of the Virginia State Bar
Virginia S. Duvall
I certify that I have this day of , 2001, mailed by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, a true copy of the foregoing District Committee Determination (Public Reprimand) to the Respondent, Steven Paul Hanna, at his last address of record with the Virginia State Bar, Suite 116, 2025 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23223-7069.