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Disciplinary Case Summaries

March 29, 2021


No. 21PDJ004. People v. Conley. 1/27/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Jason R. Conley (attorney registration number 36743) for two years. The suspension took effect January 27, 2021. To be reinstated, Conley must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has complied with disciplinary orders and rules, and is fit to practice law.

In January 2021, Conley pleaded guilty to introduction of contraband in the first degree, a class 4 felony. On three occasions in 2020, Conley smuggled synthetic marijuana wax into the Mesa County Jail and provided it to his incarcerated client. Conley did so because another inmate had threatened to harm his client unless his client could procure the marijuana wax. On a fourth occasion, Conley gave his client a baggie that he thought contained marijuana wax but actually contained methamphetamine.

Through this conduct, Conley violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (a lawyer shall not commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 21PDJ003. People v. Edgar-Dickman. 1/22/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct in this reciprocal discipline matter and suspended Lisa Michelle Edgar-Dickman (attorney registration number 33095) for one year, all to be stayed upon her compliance with the terms of probation in her California disciplinary matter. The probation took effect January 22, 2021.

On October 22, 2020, the Supreme Court of California entered an order suspending Edgar-Dickman from the practice of law for one year, fully staying that suspension pending compliance with a one-year period of probation, with conditions. The order was based on a stipulation between the California State Bar and Edgar-Dickman. The sanction was premised on Edgar-Dickman’s misconduct in (1) failing to notify the State Bar of California that she employed a lawyer who had resigned with disciplinary charges, (2) allowing that lawyer to receive and handle client funds, and (3) filing a brief on appeal for an immigration client without complying with the relevant legal authority.

Through this conduct, Edgar-Dickman engaged in conduct constituting grounds for reciprocal discipline under CRCP 251.21, which calls for imposition of the same discipline as that imposed in California.

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 20PDJ071. People v. Halepaska. 2/17/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ amended conditional admission of misconduct and suspended John D. Halepaska (attorney registration number 28653) for one year and one day, with nine months to be served and the remainder to be stayed upon the successful completion of a three-year period of probation, with conditions. The suspension took effect on February 17, 2021.

In December 2015, Halepaska and his wife had an argument. His wife poked him in the chest with her cell phone. He grabbed the phone and tossed it over his shoulder, breaking it against the wall. Halepaska’s wife called the police. She allegedly reported a number of physical contacts, but she had no bruises or signs of injury, and she now asserts that she told the reporting officer that Halepaska did not hurt her. In April 2016, Halepaska pleaded guilty to the class 3 misdemeanor of harassment—shove/strike/kick—act of domestic violence, and he received a deferred judgment with two years of supervised probation. Halepaska did not self-report the conviction because he was wrongfully advised that he was not required to do so.

In a separate matter several years later, Halepaska relapsed for several months while in recovery from alcohol use disorder. At that time, during one evening in August 2018, Halepaska exchanged a series of inappropriate texts with his 15-year-old niece. Halepaska says that he was “black out” drunk when he sent his niece a text saying “that’s hot” in response to a selfie she sent him. He then questioned her about her sex life, made other inappropriate inquiries, and asked, “Will you show me your body?” The inappropriate text messages were limited to that one evening. They came to light in October 2018, when his niece was asked about them while she was in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt. Halepaska pleaded guilty to invasion of privacy for sexual gratification, a class 1 extraordinary risk misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 10 days of non-jail time on a work crew and five years of supervised probation, including sobriety monitoring. He has completed a psychosexual evaluation, which indicated that he is at very low risk of recidivism for sexually related offenses.

Through this conduct, Halepaska violated Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 21PDJ007. People v. Odle. 2/16/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ amended conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Robert Phillip Odle (attorney registration number 18091) for six months, all stayed upon the successful completion of a three-year period of probation, with conditions, to run concurrent to Odle’s discipline in case number 19PDJ062. The suspension took effect on September 1, 2019.

In August 2016, a client hired Odle to represent her in an ongoing civil contract dispute. Odle’s fee agreement called for a $2,500 retainer earned at $200 an hour. The fee agreement also promised periodic statements, but Odle issued his client only two invoices. Odle’s trust account statements do not correspond to the invoices. For instance, Odle’s trust account had a $0 balance in September 1, 2016, but his invoice dated a few days later showed that he should have been holding $1,327 of his client’s retainer in trust.

After unsuccessful settlement negotiations, the parties agreed to engage in binding arbitration. The client fired Odle for the purposes of the arbitration but agreed that he should stay on to transform the future arbitration award to a judgment, essentially “unbundling” his services. Odle did not clearly communicate to his client whether he would charge her beyond what he had already invoiced. He intended not to charge her anything beyond the $2,500 retainer, whereas she believed he would not charge her anything in addition to what he had already invoiced. Odle states that he told his client in phone calls that she had exhausted the $2,500 retainer. He maintains that he worked at his hourly rate of $200 to earn the money remaining on the retainer, although he kept poor records and did not track his time or issue additional invoices. His client, however, disputes knowing that the retainer was exhausted.

The matter never went to arbitration, and the client effectively dropped the matter. Much later, however, the opposing party moved to reopen the case. Because Odle was still his client’s counsel of record, he received the motion, but he took no action. The court eventually ruled on the motion. Odle’s client was not aware of the motion or the order until she learned about them through the disciplinary process. In May 2018, Odle moved to withdraw. He sent his client a copy of his withdrawal motion but did not confer with her before he filed it.

Through this conduct, Odle violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing a client); Colo. RPC 1.4(b) (a lawyer shall explain a matter so as to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation); Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer shall hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property); and Colo. RPC 1.16(d) (a lawyer shall protect a client’s interests upon termination of the representation).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 20PDJ008. People v. Pelloux. 2/9/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Carolyn Vance Pelloux (attorney registration number 29448) for one year, with 30 days to be served and the remainder to be stayed upon the successful completion of a two-year period of probation, with conditions. The suspension was effective March 2, 2021.

Pelloux contracted with the Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel (ORPC), an independent governmental agency of the Colorado Judicial Branch, to represent parents in three Colorado counties. Payment claims were submitted to ORPC through an online portal. Pelloux was obligated by a chief justice directive to make her time records available to ORPC within 72 hours of a request.

Between 2016 and 2018, Pelloux employed at various times between one and three associates. The associates felt pressure from Pelloux to increase billing, unnecessarily work on certain matters, and bill amounts that were greater than what was appropriate in ORPC matters. Pelloux did not supervise her staff or provide them proper guidance to ensure that the billing practices were consistent with her ethical obligations.

When working with ORPC’s billing system, Pelloux did not download all the information she had entered into the system. She did not maintain copies of the documentation of time that had been loaded in the ORPC billing system. After ORPC terminated Pelloux’s contract in March 2018, she lost access to ORPC’s billing software and records. ORPC audited Pelloux’s billing information and requested her billing records in accordance with the chief justice directive. Pelloux knowingly failed to provide all her records to ORPC, and she did not maintain all financial records as required under Colo. RPC 1.15D. ORPC disputed certain time entries that Pelloux provided and requested that she return her active files. Pelloux admits that some time entries contained improper or inaccurate descriptions, and she recognizes that some billing mistakes resulted in overcharges to ORPC. Pelloux has agreed to return $20,000 to ORPC in settlement of the overbilling dispute.

Through this conduct, Pelloux violated Colo. RPC 1.5(a) (a lawyer shall not charge an unreasonable fee); Colo. RPC 1.15D (a lawyer shall maintain certain financial records for seven years); Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal); Colo. RPC 5.1(a) (a partner shall ensure her firm implements measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct); and Colo. RPC 5.1 (b) (a lawyer with direct supervisory authority over another lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the other lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 20PDJ058. People v. Steichen. 1/22/2021. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Randall Robert Steichen (attorney registration number 12535) for six months, with 90 days to be served and the remainder to be stayed upon the successful completion of a one-year period of probation, with conditions. The suspension took effect February 26, 2021.

Steichen brought a civil action on his client’s behalf. During the litigation, he filed a motion to substitute a defendant who had died with the defendant’s Florida estate. Opposing counsel and the personal representative of the estate consented to the substitution. Steichen filed the motion as unopposed, and he included a proposed order directing the personal representative of the estate to acknowledge that the substitution satisfied Florida law for asserting a claim against the estate. But the directive was never discussed during conferral, and Steichen did not circulate the motion and proposed order to opposing counsel before he filed them. The presiding court granted the motion, believing it was unopposed. In a series of emails that followed the court’s order, opposing counsel and the personal representative told Steichen that they had not agreed to the directive in the proposed order. Opposing counsel asked Steichen to draft and submit to the court a new order without the contested language. Steichen agreed but did not draft or submit a new proposed order, nor did he otherwise act to correct the court record. Later, opposing counsel filed a motion to dismiss all claims against the defendant estate. In his response to the motion, Steichen quoted the contested language in the order to substitute parties. He did not mention to the court or include the email traffic demonstrating the personal representative’s or opposing counsel’s opposition to the proposed order.

Through this conduct, Steichen violated Colo. RPC 3.3(a)(1) (a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal) and Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.