Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Attorney Grievance Commission v. Goff (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed May 8, 2007. Opinion by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

Respondent ("Goff") was charged with violating Rules 1.1, Competence, 1.3, Diligence, 1.15, Safekeeping Property, 5.3, Responsibilities Regarding Non-lawyer Assistants, 8.1, Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters, and 8.4, Misconduct, and the petitioner (the "AGC") recommended an indefinite suspension, while Goff suggested no sanction was needed, or at the most a reprimand or 30 day suspension. After considering the report of the hearings judge, the Court agreed with the AGC, and ordered the indefinite suspension of Goff, with the right to apply for readmission after 60 days.

As an adjunct to a client's request to handle the sale of certain parcels of land owned by various members of the client's family, Goff agreed to open three estates for deceased family members who held record title to several parcels. After the sale, most of the proceeds were distributed without controversy, but the portion of proceeds held on behalf of one estate were not timely distributed, and Goff was not responsive to inquiries by family members and their counsel. Some time after a complaint had been filed with bar counsel, Goff distributed the remaining proceeds.

Goff was incompletely and less than timely responsive to bar counsel's repeated requests, and the subsequent investigation revealed many shortcomings in Goff's records and escrow account administration. When several overdraft notices were subsequently received by bar counsel, the investigation was widened to include several of Goff's other escrow accounts, and more errors and inappropriate practices were revealed. Computer crashes, and the failure to make timely and adequate backups, had added to the problem by destroying blocks of escrow account records. Throughout, Goff exhibited behavior that the hearing judge characterized as "lackadasical" and "unreliable", leading to the conclusion that Goff's representation was "incompetent".

The Court had little trouble finding no merit in Goff's multiple exceptions, including his claim that, because most of his professional activities were as a title insurance agent, he was exempt from liability under the Code of Professional Conduct. On that point, the Court found the conduct here was clearly legal representation, easily distinguishable from prior cases where the conduct in question was solely as a title agent.

By contrast, the Court upheld the AGC's exceptions, correcting a "technical" error in referring to the current rather than the then-existing statute, and finding an additional violation not confirmed by the hearing judge below.

The opinion is available in PDF format.

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