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Disciplinary Case Summaries

November 24, 2020


No. 20PDJ044. People v. Abrahamson Pirzadeh. 11/17/2020. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Jean A. Abrahamson Pirzadeh (attorney registration number 50522) for nine months, all stayed upon Pirzadeh’s successful completion of a two-year probation with conditions. The probation took effect November 17, 2020.

In January 2019, Pirzadeh began sharing office space with three lawyers and a paralegal, who had been enjoined from the unauthorized practice of law. The paralegal, in effect, ran the office. Some of the clients believed he was a lawyer; at first, so did Pirzadeh. The paralegal—the only Spanish speaker in the office—met with clients during initial consultations, conferred with them about their legal issues, and assigned them to one of the lawyers. He often controlled the representations and used Pirzadeh’s status as a lawyer to gain access to clients in jail and at court. Pirzadeh was thus not always informed about her client matters. No formal conflicts check system existed in the office, and Pirzadeh did not check for conflicts herself until May 2019. The paralegal managed the fees in the cases he assigned to Pirzadeh, and he gave her weekly cash payments with no explanation for the amounts paid. Pirzadeh did not handle fee agreements, create accountings of client funds, maintain client ledgers, or manage trust account funds for her clients. She stopped taking cases from the paralegal after realizing that client funds were not being placed in trust.

In March 2019, Pirzadeh substituted as plaintiff’s counsel in a quiet title case that had been litigated by two other lawyers from the office. A third lawyer from the office represented the defendant in an earlier divorce. The paralegal had worked on both matters, despite the conflict. Pirzadeh tried the case in May 2019. The case put at issue attorney fees from the defendant’s divorce, which included the paralegal’s time. The plaintiff allegedly had paid some of the fees, and some remained outstanding. The court disqualified all the lawyers from the shared office due to a conflict of interest and awarded attorney fees to the defendant. The court later held Pirzadeh and the other two lawyers who represented the plaintiff jointly and severally liable for the fee award, which to date has not been paid. Pirzadeh left the office in August 2019, around the time the paralegal took the office’s client files and disappeared. She reported the matter to disciplinary authorities.

Through this conduct, Pirzadeh violated Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer shall hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property); Colo. RPC 1.15D (a lawyer shall maintain trust account records); Colo. RPC 1.16A (a lawyer shall retain a client’s file unless the lawyer gives the file to the client, the client authorizes the destruction, or the lawyer has notified the client in writing of the intention to destroy the file); Colo. RPC 5.3(b) (a lawyer with direct supervisory authority over a nonlawyer employee shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the employee’s conduct is compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations); Colo. RPC 5.4(a) (a lawyer shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer); Colo. RPC 5.4(c) (a lawyer shall not permit a person who employs the lawyer to render legal services for another to direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering such legal services); and Colo. RPC 5.5(a)(3) (a lawyer shall not assist a person in the performance of the unauthorized practice of law). The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 20PDJ039. People v. Corry. 11/13/2020. Conditional Admission of Misconduct—Attorney Suspended.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and suspended Robert J. Corry (attorney registration number 32705) for one year and one day. The suspension took effect November 13, 2020. To be reinstated, Corry 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 2015, a defendant in a federal civil case involving a marijuana grow operation retained Corry, who also represented several other codefendants in the case. The client paid Corry a flat fee for the benchmarks detailed in the fee agreement. But Corry did not maintain records associating any met benchmarks with transfers that he made to his operating account from his “COLTAF account”—which was in actuality a business savings account, not a COLTAF account, as it was not registered with the Colorado Lawyer’s Trust Account Foundation. At the outset of the representation, Corry gave the client a waiver of conflict form, but the client did not understand how a conflict might arise or affect his interests. Corry’s firm litigated the case through trial and an appeal. On remand, Corry’s firm withdrew from the client’s representation based on a potential conflict, but the firm continued to represent other codefendants, even though the codefendants’ defenses were likely adverse to the client and the firm had acquired material information about the client.

In another engagement, Corry agreed to provide compliance advice in exchange for a flat fee. Corry deposited the client’s initial payment into his ersatz COLTAF account. Thereafter, Corry failed to maintain accounting records linking the transfers between that account and his operating account to specific benchmarks in the fee agreement.

In a third matter, Corry’s firm was retained for licensing assistance. The clients purportedly signed a flat-fee form agreement that effectively allowed Corry to earn the entire fee once his firm completed any substantive work. Soon after receiving the funds, Corry transferred them to his checking account without keeping records attributing the transfers to specific clients or matters. Corry’s associate served as the only point of contact for the clients, but the associate left Corry’s employ during the representation. Corry then failed to retain a file for the clients, to respond to the clients’ repeated attempts to communicate, and to complete any substantive work on the matter.

In 2019, Corry appeared on behalf of his wife in a parenting time action brought by his wife’s ex-husband. The ex-husband moved to disqualify Corry based on Corry’s concurrent conflict of interest and the likelihood that he would be called to testify as a necessary witness. The court granted the motion over Corry’s objection. In September 2020, Corry pleaded guilty to one count of criminal mischief as an act of domestic violence and one count of violation of a protection order as an act of domestic violence. Corry had damaged his then-girlfriend’s car when he drove it recklessly, giving rise to the criminal mischief count. He violated the protective order in place between him and his then-girlfriend when they married in 2019.

Finally, Corry violated multiple court orders in his own domestic relations case by failing to meet his child support obligation; to pay his children’s tuition and for their extracurricular activities; to maintain his children’s health insurance policy; and to obtain a life insurance policy for his children’s benefit. He also violated court orders requiring him to undergo alcohol monitoring and to abstain from consuming alcohol.

Through this conduct, Corry violated Colo. RPC 1.4(a)(4) (a lawyer shall promptly comply with reasonable requests for information); 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 1.5(a) (a lawyer shall not charge an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses); Colo. RPC 1.7(a)(2) (a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest); Colo. RPC 1.8(i) (a lawyer generally shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client); Colo. RPC 1.9(a) (a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not later represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to those of the former client, absent written informed consent); Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer shall hold client property separate from the lawyer’s own property); Colo. RPC 1.15D(a)(1)(A) (a lawyer shall maintain an appropriate record-keeping system to track funds or other property held for others); Colo. RPC 1.16(a) (a lawyer shall not represent a client, or shall withdraw from representation, if the representation will result in a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law); Colo. RPC 1.16(d) (a lawyer shall protect a client’s interests upon termination of the representation, including by giving reasonable notice to the client and returning any papers and property to which the client is entitled); Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal); 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); and Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (a lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 19PDJ058. People v. Efe. 9/17/2020. Opinion Imposing Sanctions—Attorney Suspended.

A hearing board suspended Anselm Andrew Efe (attorney registration number 38357) for one year and one day. The suspension, which runs concurrent to Efe’s suspension in case number 18DJ041, took effect on October 28, 2020. To be reinstated, Efe 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 a child support modification matter, Efe did not competently or diligently represent his client. He ignored disclosure and discovery requirements, and he failed to advise his client about the client’s obligations to produce complete and timely financial information. Later, when opposing counsel filed a motion to compel discovery, Efe failed to protect his client’s interests, resulting in an award of attorney fees and costs against the client. Efe also knowingly declined to respond to demands for information during the disciplinary investigation of this case.

Efe’s conduct violated Colo. RPC 1.1 (a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client); Colo. RPC 1.3 (a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing a client); Colo. RPC 1.4(a)(2) (a lawyer shall reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished); and Colo. RPC 8.1(b) (a lawyer involved in a disciplinary matter shall not knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 19PDJ057. People v. Park. 9/4/2020. Opinion Imposing Sanctions.

A hearing board suspended Matthew S. Park (attorney registration number 31715) for one year and one day, with three months served and the remainder stayed upon the successful completion of a two-year period of probation, with conditions. The suspension took effect on October 27, 2020.

Park was administratively suspended from the practice of law in 2015. During his administrative suspension, he accepted a personal injury matter for a client. Park settled the client’s matter in January 2019, depositing the settlement funds directly into his operating account. In doing so, he commingled his personal funds with those of his client and of third-party lien holders.

Through this conduct, Park violated Colo. RPC 1.15A(a) (a lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons separate from the lawyer’s own property); Colo. RPC 3.4(c) (a lawyer shall not knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal); and Colo. RPC 5.5(a)(1) (a lawyer shall not practice law in Colorado without a valid license or other authorization).

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.

 

No. 20PDJ046. People v. Underhill Jr. 9/17/2020. Order Dismissing Petition for Reinstatement.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge dismissed the reinstatement petition of James C. Underhill Jr. on September 17, 2020.

In 2015, Underhill was suspended for 18 months, to run consecutive to a suspension imposed in an earlier disciplinary case. Underhill was disciplined for publicly responding to former clients’ negative online reviews with internet postings that disclosed sensitive and confidential information obtained during the representation. Underhill then sued the couple for defamation and communicated with them ex parte, even though he knew that they were represented by counsel, and despite their lawyer’s repeated demands that he not do so. When the lawsuit was dismissed, Underhill brought a second defamation action in a different court, alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings. Underhill was also suspended for misconduct in a second client matter in which he published an attorney-client communication online.

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge dismissed Underhill’s petition for reinstatement with leave to refile, concluding that because five years had elapsed since Underhill had been suspended, he was required under CRCP 251.29(b) to pass the Colorado bar exam before petitioning for reinstatement. Because Underhill neither took nor passed the Colorado bar exam before petitioning for reinstatement, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge found that Underhill failed to state a claim that he is entitled to be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado.

The case file is public per CRCP 251.31.