Disciplinary Actions — February 2021 State Bar lists (verbatim from the State Bar of Texas) General questions regarding attorney discipline should be directed to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, toll-free (877) 953-5535 or (512) 453-5535. The Board of Disciplinary Appeals may be reached at (512) 475-1578. Information and copies of actual orders are available at www.txboda.org. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct may be contacted toll-free, (877) 228-5750 or (512) 463-5533. Please note that persons disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Conduct are not necessarily licensed attorneys.

Houston area

SUSPENSIONS
On December 14, 2020, Arthur Scot Chase [#04148550], 60, of Bellaire, accepted a one-year partially probated suspension effective December 11, 2020, with the first month actively suspended and the remainder probated. An evidentiary panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that Chase neglected his client’s case, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of her case, failed to promptly comply with his client’s reasonable requests for information, and failed to return the client file. Additionally, Chase failed to respond to the grievance. Chase violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $895 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 9, 2020, Charles E. Hammond III [#00793128], 57, of Houston, accepted a three-year partially probated suspension [six months active and 30 months probated] effective January 1, 2021. An evidentiary panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that Hammond failed to respond to a grievance without asserting a privilege or other legal ground for his failure to do so. In a second case, the panel found that Hammond neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the client’s legal matter, and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Hammond also upon termination of representation failed to surrender papers and property to which his client was justly entitled and failed to refund any advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Hammond failed to supervise nonlawyers at his firm and ordered, encouraged, or permitted the conduct of the nonlawyers working on his client’s case and failed to respond to a grievance without asserting a privilege or other legal ground for his failure to do so. In a third a case, the panel found that Hammond neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the client’s legal matter, and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Hammond also upon termination of representation failed to surrender papers and property to which his client was justly entitled and failed to refund any advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Additionally, Hammond failed to respond to a grievance without asserting a privilege or other legal ground for his failure to do so. In a fourth case, the panel found that Hammond neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the client’s legal matter, and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Hammond also upon termination of representation failed to surrender papers and property to which his client was justly entitled and failed to refund any advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Additionally, Hammond failed to respond to a grievance without asserting a privilege or other legal ground for his failure to do so. Hammond violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), 5.03(a), 5.03(b), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $12,400 in restitution and $2,750 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On December 9, 2020, Charles E. Hammond III [#00793128], 57, of Houston, accepted a three-year partially probated suspension [six months active and 30 months probated] effective January 1, 2021. In both cases, an evidentiary panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that Hammond neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the client’s legal matter, and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. Hammond also upon termination of representation failed to surrender papers and property to which his clients were justly entitled and refund any advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Lastly, Hammond failed to timely respond to the grievances filed against him without asserting a privilege or other legal ground for his failure to do so. Hammond violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $2,600 in restitution and $2,750 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 10, 2020, John Victor Mastriani [#13184375], 61, of Houston, accepted a 24-month judgment of partially probated suspension effective February 15, 2021, with the first three months actively suspended and the remainder probated. An investigatory panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that, while representing four clients, Mastriani neglected the legal matters entrusted to him, failed to keep his clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, failed to refund advance payments of fees that had not been earned, and failed to timely furnish to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel a response or other information as required by the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Mastriani violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). He was ordered to pay $6,250 in restitution and $6,290 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

On December 12, 2020, Jan Laurence Sadick [#17508400], 66, of Houston, accepted a one-year fully probated suspension effective January 1, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 4 Grievance Committee found that Sadick failed to hold funds belonging to his client that were in Sadick’s possession in connection with the representation separate from his own property and failed to promptly deliver to his client funds that he was entitled to receive. Sadick violated Rules 1.14(a) and 1.14(b). He was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

Rest of the state

JUDICIAL ACTIONS
To read the entire public sanctions, go to scjc.texas.gov.
On December 4, 2020, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public warning to Lonnie Cox, judge of the 56th Judicial District Court, Galveston, Galveston County.

On December 4, 2020, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public admonition to Sarah Eckhardt, former Travis County judge, Austin, Travis County.

On December 4, 2020, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public admonition to Mark Luitjen,senior district judge, sitting by assignment, San Antonio, Bexar County.

On December 4, 2020, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public admonition and order of additional education to Mark Luitjen, senior district judge, sitting by assignment, San Antonio, Bexar County.

SUSPENSIONS
On December 11, 2020, Brett Newton Arkuss [#24071949], 40, of Providence, Rhode Island, accepted a six-month probated suspension, effective January 1, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 9 Grievance Committee found that from October 28, 2013, through February 6, 2015, Arkuss was an associate at Adler, Pollock & Sheehan in Providence, Rhode Island. On October 31, 2016, Arkuss was hired as a contract attorney at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, a law firm in Providence, Rhode Island. Arkuss continued in that position until February 17, 2017, at which time he became a corporate associate for the firm. In March  2019, Arkuss left Hinckley, Allen & Snyder and accepted a position as senior counsel at Duffy & Sweeney, located in Providence, Rhode Island. At all three Rhode Island law firms, Arkuss engaged in the practice of law without being a licensed attorney in the state of Rhode Island. Specifically, Arkuss was not authorized to practice law in Rhode Island when he drafted and negotiated purchase and sale agreements, merger agreements, and engaged in a general corporate law practice at the law firms described above. Arkuss violated Rule 5.05(a). He was ordered to pay $687.50 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 11, 2020, Pape Malick Indiss Djiba [#24087430], 34, of Austin, accepted a one-year fully probated suspension effective December 15, 2020. An investigatory panel of the District 8 Grievance Committee found that in September 2017, the complainant hired Djiba to represent her in a personal injury case arising from a vehicle car accident, in which the complainant was a passenger. Initially, Djiba represented both the complainant and the driver against a third-party motorist involved in the accident and the driver’s insurance company. On October 1, 2019, Djiba terminated his representation of the complainant and gifted the complainant $45 to seek new counsel. On November 25, 2019, the complainant hired a new attorney who attempted to contact Djiba, to no avail. During the course of Djiba’s representation of the complainant, Djiba knowingly failed to respond to a no-evidence motion for summary judgment filed by the third-party motorist. Djiba also failed to notify the complainant or the complainant’s new attorney that a summary judgment hearing was set for December 5, 2019. On December 5, 2019, Djiba settled the driver’s claim against the third-party motorist for $2,900. Djiba also settled the complainant’s claim for $100, lacking the complainant’s consent and having previously terminated their client-attorney relationship. On February 3, 2020, Djiba sent a demand letter, purportedly on the complainant’s behalf, to the driver’s insurance company without the complainant’s consent and a waiver of conflict of interest from the driver. Djiba violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.02(a), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.06(b)(1), 1.06(b)(2), 1.06(e), and 1.08(d) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Article X, Section 9, State Bar Rules.

On December 9, 2020, Deatria Mechele Norfleet [#15078100], 60, of Arlington, agreed to a two-year fully probated suspension effective January 1, 2021. The District 7 Grievance Committee found that in or about August 2016, the complainant retained Norfleet for representation in the complainant’s effort to obtain the title to a certain condominium. The complainant paid an advanced legal fee of $2,000 to Norfleet. Norfleet provided financial assistance to the complainant by paying the mortgage and back-owed taxes on the condominium to prevent the foreclosure of the condominium. Norfleet also agreed to pay the upfront costs to repair and improve the condominium in exchange for reimbursement by the proceeds of the sale of the condominium. Further, Norfleet began leasing the condominium to tenants and collecting rent money, without the complainant’s knowledge, permission, or approval. Norfleet entered into a business transaction with the complainant, but the transaction and terms were not fully disclosed to the complainant and the complainant did not consent in writing to the business transaction entered into with Norfleet. Norfleet failed to promptly deliver funds that the complainant was entitled to receive. Norfleet engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Norfleet violated Rules 1.08(a), 1.08(d), 1.14(b), and 8.04(a)(3). She was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 16, 2020, Renee A Sanchez-Akers [#24028398], 43, of Weatherford, agreed to 12-month fully probated suspension effective December 15, 2020. An investigatory panel of the District 14 Grievance Committee found that in January 2019, the complainant hired Sanchez-Akers to help with an adoption and paid Sanchez-Akers $3,500. In representing the complainant, Sanchez-Akers neglected the legal matter entrusted to her by failing to complete any work in the matter. Sanchez-Akers failed to keep the complainant reasonably informed about the status of the adoption matter and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information from the complainant. Sanchez-Akers failed to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the complainant to make informed decisions regarding the representation. Upon request by the complainant, Sanchez-Akers failed to promptly render a full accounting regarding the fee paid to Sanchez-Akers. Upon termination of representation, Sanchez-Akers failed to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect the complainant’s interests. Upon termination of representation, Sanchez-Akers failed to refund advance payments of the fee that had not been earned. Sanchez-Akers failed to respond to the grievance. Sanchez-Akers violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.14(b), 1.15(d), 8.01(b), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $3,500 in restitution and $250 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 1, 2020, Stephen Langton Schaefer [#17720950], 65, of Bandera, agreed to a six-month fully probated suspension effective December 1, 2020. An evidentiary panel of the District 15 Grievance Committee found Schaefer failed to properly supervise his nonlawyer employees and assisted another in violating the disciplinary rules. Schaefer violated Rule 5.03(b)(1). He was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

On December 21, 2020, Jaime A. Villalobos [#00785151], 54, of El Paso, accepted a two-year fully probated suspension effective January 1, 2021. An investigatory panel of the District 17 Grievance Committee found that Villalobos neglected a legal matter, failed to reasonably communicate with his client, failed to properly safeguard his client’s funds in a trust account, and failed to comply with a prior disciplinary judgment by committing professional misconduct when he was on probation. Villalobos violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 1.14(a), 8.04(a)(3), and 8.04(a)(7). He agreed to pay $1,000 in restitution and $800 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.

PUBLIC REPRIMANDS
On December 18, 2020, Tony Diaz [#05805350], 63, of Austin, accepted a public reprimand. An investigatory panel of the District 9 Grievance Committee found that while representing a client in an immigration matter, Diaz neglected the matter and failed to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit his client to make informed decisions. Diaz violated Rules 1.01(b)(1) and 1.03(b).

On December 7, 2020, Michael Isaac Hall [#24057881], 43, of Sweetwater, agreed to a public reprimand. The District 14 Grievance Committee found that in 2015, Hall was representing the complainant’s mother and other relatives as plaintiffs in a lawsuit. After the complainant’s mother’s death in July 2017, the complainant and her brother became successors-in-interest. In representing the plaintiffs, Hall neglected the legal matter entrusted to him and frequently failed to carry out completely the obligations Hall owed to the plaintiffs. Hall failed to keep the plaintiffs reasonably informed about the status of the case and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information. As a result of Hall’s neglect and frequent failure to carry out his obligations, the complainant’s case was dismissed with prejudice in October 2019. Hall failed to inform the plaintiffs of the dismissal. Hall violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.01(b)(2), and 1.03(a). He was ordered to pay $500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.



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