Report of the Office of Bar Counsel

Renu M. Brennan, bar counsel
 

 I.  Disciplinary Statistics – FY 2019 

The Office received 3,123 complaints against Virginia’s 32,870 active lawyers. Eighty-four percent of the complaints (2,626 of 3,123) were screened out early in the review process. Bar counsel reached more agreed dispositions and tried more cases than last year. Additionally, the Office decreased the number of open cases and cases awaiting charges, and all levels of cases awaiting action were processed more quickly. Forty-two lawyers received private discipline and 67 received public discipline.  

Dismissal and Sanctions Statistics Information for FY 19:
* Number of Respondents (number of cases) 

Number of cases dismissed in house by Bar Counsel 

250

Number of cases dismissed by Subcommittee 

103

Number of cases dismissed by District Committee

1

Number of cases dismissed by Board 

2

Number of cases dismissed by Circuit Court 

1

Number of lawyers who received private discipline - Admonition

24(26)*

Number of lawyers who received private discipline - Reprimand

16(17)

Number of lawyers who received private discipline - Other

2

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Dismissal de minimis

1

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Admonition or Reprimand

29(34)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Suspension 

20(25)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Involuntary/Adjudicated Disbarment

7(14)

Number of lawyers who received public discipline - Consent to Revocation

10(13)

 II.  Changes to Disciplinary Procedure, Rules of Professional Conduct, and Unauthorized Practice of Law 
 

Effective October 31, 2018, the Court approved proposed Comment [7] to Rule 1.1 of Professional Conduct (Competence).  

Effective November 8, 2018, the Court approved LEO 1885, Legal Matchmaking Services, and LEO 1889, Duty to Appeal Termination of Parental Rights Cases When Client Is Missing.

By Order entered December 12, 2018, the Court rejected revisions to Rule 1.10, imputed disqualification.   

Effective January 1, 2019, the Court approved two amendments to Paragraph 13. The first facilitates “retirement with dignity” for a lawyer suffering from irreversible cognitive decline and allows transfer to the Retired/Disabled class of membership in lieu of an impairment suspensionThe other amendment allows the Office of Bar Counsel to furnish confidential information to an approved Lawyer Assistance Program to accelerate help to lawyers who need it.                                     

Also effective January 1, 2019, the Court approved related amendments to Paragraph 13: (1) a change to the definition of “Costs” to allow the assessment of guardian ad litem fees by the Clerk of the Disciplinary System if the Disciplinary Board chooses to assess such costs in its discretion; (2) a change to the impairment rules allowing the bar to dismiss pending cases upon a finding of impairment or a transfer to the disabled and retired class of membership under the new “retirement with dignity” rule; and (3) adding a definition for “Lawyer Assistance Program.” 

Effective February 15, 2019, the Court approved amendments to Rule 1.8(e)(1) of Professional Conduct. The amendments allow attorneys to advance court and litigation expenses and to condition repayment on the outcome of the case, and to pay such costs on behalf of indigent client.

Effective July 1, 2019, the Court approved revisions to Part 6, §I of the Rules of the Supreme Court of VA on the unauthorized practice of law.

The following proposed amendments are before the Court: 

III.  Appeals Decided by the Supreme Court Of Virginia 
 

On July 18, 2019, the Court unanimously upheld a three-judge panel’s findings that Joseph D. Morrissey violated Rules of Professional Conduct 5.1(b) (requiring a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over another lawyer to make reasonable efforts to ensure the lawyer’s behavior conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct), 5.5(c) (prohibiting a lawyer from practicing law in violation of the regulation of the legal profession), and 8.4(b) (professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal or deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law). The Court affirmed the revocation of Morrissey’s license.  

On September 6, 2018, in Roberts v. Virginia State Bar, 296 Va. 105, 818 S.E.2d 45 (2018) the Court held the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board (Board) did not err in affirming the Third District Committee’s findings that Thomas H. Roberts violated Rules 1.15(a)(3)(ii) and 1.15(b)(5) and sanction of a Public Reprimand with Terms.  The Court held that Roberts violated Rule 1.15(a)(3)(ii) by unilaterally transferring client funds out of trust in partial payment of his fees notwithstanding the fact that his client disputed Roberts’ claim to the fees and asserted a good faith interest in the trust funds. 

On May 30, 2019, the Court affirmed the Admonition imposed by a three-judge circuit court against Judith Mara Cofield.

On May 10, 2019, the Court granted the bar’s motion to dismiss William Bryant Claiborne’s appeal of the two-year suspension of his law license imposed by a three-judge circuit court on October 11, 2018. 

On July 29, 2019, the Court dismissed Sammy Edward Ayer’s appeal of the Summary Order revoking his license.


 IV.  Reinstatement Cases and Appeals Pending in the Supreme Court Of Virginia
 

A. Reinstatement Cases

On August 5, 2019, the Board entered its Order of Recommendation to the Supreme Court of Virginia that Ann Bridgeforth Tribbey be denied reinstatement of her license. The Board heard Ms. Tribbey’s petition June 28, 2019. Ms. Tribbey consented to revocation on November 20, 2003, with disciplinary charges pending.  

On April 29, 2019, the Court denied Steven Frank Helm’s petition for reinstatement. Mr. Helm consented to revocation on April 1, 2011, with disciplinary charges pending. In late May 2019 Helm filed a motion for reconsideration, which is pending.   

B.  Appeal Pending Before the Supreme Court of Virginia 

On April 23, 2019, Rhetta Moore Daniel noted the appeal of the Memorandum Order revoking her license to practice law effective February 22, 2019. The bar moved to dismiss the appeal because Daniel failed to timely file her opening brief and appendix. The bar’s motion to dismiss Ms. Daniel’s appeal is pending before the Court. 

Updated: Sep 03, 2019