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Disciplinary Case Summaries

November 17, 2022


No. 22PDJ028. People v. Amundson. 10/4/2022. Stipulation to Discipline.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ stipulation to discipline and suspended Paul Thomas Amundson (attorney registration number 27126) for three years. The suspension, which was effective on October 4, 2022, takes into account significant mitigating factors, including Amundson’s timely good faith to make restitution by taking out a loan against his home to pay back his client. To be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado, Amundson must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, has complied with all disciplinary orders and rules, and is fit to practice law.

In April 2020, Amundson deposited the proceeds from the sale of his client’s marital residence into his trust account. Amundson withdrew the sale proceeds from his trust account between May and September 2020. But this disbursement was not authorized by a written agreement of the parties or by a court order. In September 2020, Amundson wrote the opposing party a check for the party’s share of the sale proceeds. The check did not clear, so Amundson obtained and deposited a loan to supplement the funds in his trust account. By November 2020, Amundson’s trust account held a negative balance, even though Amundson had not yet disbursed any of the sale proceeds to his client. In July 2022, Amundson finished paying his client the share of the proceeds that he should have disbursed in September 2020.

In a different matter, in 2021 a client paid Amundson a $1,000 advance for an anticipated bankruptcy filing. In early 2022, the client advanced Amundson another $3,000 for help in a family law matter. Amundson did not deposit the client’s funds in a trust account or hold the funds separate from his own property. In March 2022, the client loaned Amundson around $5,000. Amundson did not obtain the client’s written agreement to the terms of the loan, however. Nor did Amundson advise his client to obtain independent counsel about the loan.

From April through at least December 2020, Amundson neither kept a ledger for nor reconciled his trust account. Amundson used his trust account as an operating account from at least April 2020 through July 2022. During that time, Amundson wrote himself trust account checks, which he cashed, and made cash withdrawals from the account. From at least March 2022 through July 2022, Amundson did not maintain an operating account.

 

Through this conduct, Amundson violated Colo. RPC 1.8(a) (a lawyer must not enter into a business transaction with a client unless the client is advised to seek independent legal counsel and the client gives written informed consent to the transaction); Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer must hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property); Colo. RPC 1.15A(b) (on receiving funds of a client or third person, a lawyer must promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds that person is entitled to receive); Colo. RPC 1.15A(c) (a lawyer must keep separate any property in which two or more persons claim an interest until there is a resolution of the claims); Colo. RPC 1.15B(a)(2) (a lawyer in private practice must maintain a business account into which the lawyer must deposit funds the lawyer receives for legal services); Colo. RPC 1.15C(a) (a lawyer must not withdraw cash from a trust account); Colo. RPC 1.15C(c) (requiring a lawyer to reconcile trust account records on at least a quarterly basis); Colo. RPC 1.15D (a lawyer must maintain trust account records); Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer must not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal); and Colo. RPC 8.4(c) (it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

 

No. 22PDJ058. People v. Coakley. 10/10/2022. Stipulation to Discipline.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ stipulation to discipline and publicly censured Collin Michael Coakley (attorney registration number 46497). The public censure was effective on October 10, 2022.

In September 2021, Coakley pleaded to a deferred judgment for the unauthorized use of a telecommunications device as an act of domestic violence, a class 3 misdemeanor. Coakley was sentenced to two years of probation and conditions related to domestic violence. He has completed the required conditions and is compliant with the terms of his probation.

The deferred judgment is premised on Coakley’s interference with his wife’s 911 call in March 2021. Coakley’s wife called 911 following an altercation between her and Coakley. Coakley took the telephone from his wife and disconnected the call. A 911 operator returned the call, and Coakley returned the telephone to his wife, who told the operator that she had accidentally dialed 911. But soon after, Coakley’s wife again called 911 and reported that Coakley had physically assaulted her. Law enforcement responded and arrested Coakley on charges of felony strangulation. Following Coakley’s arrest, however, his wife declined to submit to a medical evaluation and did not sign a release allowing law enforcement to review her medical records. Coakley’s wife allowed law enforcement to conduct alternative light imaging of her neck, but the imaging did not reveal any marks.

Through this conduct, Coakley 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).

 

Nos. 22PDJ010 & 22PDJ023. People v. Fillerup. 9/29/2022. Opinions Imposing Sanctions.

Following a sanctions hearing, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge disbarred Selvoy Peterson Fillerup (attorney registration number 43282). The disbarment was effective on November 3, 2022.

Fillerup represented a criminal defendant charged with second-degree murder. The client paid Fillerup over $10,000 based on the retainer agreement, which neither stated an hourly rate nor set forth benchmarks or other indicators for how Fillerup would earn the fee. Fillerup did not deposit any of the client’s funds into a trust account. After Fillerup successfully moved to withdraw from the representation while the case was pending, his former client requested a partial refund and the case file. Fillerup did not respond, return the file, or provide any refund.

In a separate matter, Fillerup contracted with the Office of Respondent Parents’ Counsel (ORPC) to represent indigent parents in child welfare proceedings. In several cases, Fillerup failed to appear for hearings and twice failed to sign agreements necessary for his clients’ admission into the family recovery court program. When ORPC attempted to contact Fillerup about his failures to appear, Fillerup did not respond, leading ORPC to reassign Fillerup’s cases to other lawyers and to terminate his contract.

In a third matter, Fillerup, who represented a domestic relations client, failed to attend several appearances. Because Fillerup also failed to notify his client about the appearances, his client also did not attend. The court eventually held a default hearing in October 2021. Neither Fillerup nor his client appeared at the default hearing, and the court issued permanent orders based on the opposing party’s proposed parenting plan and proposed separation agreement. Fillerup failed to meaningfully respond to his client’s pleas for information about the case. The next month, child support enforcement authorities activated an income assignment against Fillerup’s client. The client later retained new counsel, who requested that Fillerup provide the case file. Fillerup never responded to the lawyer’s request.

Fillerup’s conduct violated Colo. RPC 1.3 (a lawyer must act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing a client); Colo. RPC 1.4(a)(3) (a lawyer must keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the matter); Colo. RPC 1.5(h) (a lawyer must include specific benchmarks for earning a portion of a flat fee, if any portion is to be earned before conclusion of the representation); Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer must hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property); Colo. RPC 1.16(d) (a lawyer must protect a client’s interests upon termination of the representation, including by giving reasonable notice to the client and returning unearned fees and any papers and property to which the client is entitled); and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

 

No. 21PDJ013. Hyde v. People. 3/3/2022. Opinion Denying Restatement.

Following a reinstatement hearing, a hearing board denied Patrick C. Hyde (attorney registration number 14633) reinstatement to the practice of law under CRCP 251.29. On September 30, 2022, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the order without opinion. Hyde may not file another petition for reinstatement for two years.

In November 2018, Hyde was suspended for six months with the requirement that he petition for reinstatement, if at all, under CRCP 251.29(c). Hyde’s disciplinary suspension was premised on his failure to follow recordkeeping requirements and his mishandling of funds held in trust, which resulted in the commingling of unearned funds with his own funds.

A majority of the Hearing Board concluded that reinstatement was not appropriate because Hyde failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is fit to practice law and that he has been rehabilitated from his underlying misconduct.

 

No. 22PDJ055. People v. Stanton Jr. 10/4/2022.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ stipulation to discipline and publicly censured Boston H. Stanton Jr. (attorney registration number 18001) with conditions, including successful completion of trust account school, a financial audit, and submission of his fee dispute to the CBA Legal Fee Arbitration Committee. The public censure was effective on October 4, 2022.

In February 2018, Stanton was retained by a client facing an ongoing criminal investigation. The client believed his arrest was imminent; for that reason, the client wanted his lawyer to begin as much prearrest work as possible could so that he could bond out quickly after his anticipated arrest. Stanton agreed to handle the matter for a fee of $20,000, which Stanton characterizes as an “engagement fee” that he earned immediately, as it was paid to secure his availability to handle whatever the client needed. But Stanton did not reduce his fee agreement to writing, and his client never received any writing setting forth the basis or rate of the fee. When Stanton received the $20,000 money order from his client, he deposited the funds directly into his operating account, reasoning that he earned the engagement retainer on receipt.

Stanton says he immediately prioritized his client’s matter over his other work, performed extensive research, and frequently spoke with the client on the phone. More than a year passed, however, and charges were not filed against Stanton’s client.

Between November 2019 and February 2020, Stanton and his client discussed a possible refund. In February 2020, Stanton agreed to send his client $500 per month. The next month, the pandemic essentially shut down Stanton’s business for a period of time. In February 2021, Stanton offered his client $1,000 to “settle things.” The client cashed Stanton’s check and then submitted a request to arbitrate the fee dispute to the CBA, which sent the request to Stanton via email and U.S. mail. Stanton did not respond; he disputes receiving the request. The CBA thereafter closed the matter, and Stanton has not refunded any money other than the $1,000 payment.

Stanton maintains he earned the full amount of the engagement retainer. But because he did not comply with the ethical requirements governing an engagement retainer fee agreement, he was required to—but did not—treat the fee as a flat fee and deposit it into his trust account until he earned it by performing legal services.

Through this conduct, Stanton violated Colo. RPC 1.5(b) (a lawyer must inform a client in writing about the lawyer’s fees and expenses within a reasonable time after being retained, if the lawyer has not regularly represented the client); Colo. RPC 1.5(f) (a lawyer does not earn fees until a benefit is conferred on the client or the lawyer performs a legal service); and Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer must hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property).