This is a disciplinary proceeding brought by the Oregon State Bar. The accused is charged with violation of the following Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
The Trial Board found the accused not guilty of the first charge (Misconduct) and
The charges flow from the accused's representation of a client in a licensing proceeding before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The client retained the accused to represent him in an administrative hearing to challenge the denial of an upgrading of his pilot's license. The accused performed that responsibility satisfactorily, but the administrative law judge ruled against the client. The client then retained the accused to handle an appeal of the administrative law judge's ruling to the NTSB.
The accused filed a notice of appeal dated June 18, 1979. He obtained three extensions of time for the filing of his brief on appeal, the last being to October 1, 1979. The accused never filed the brief. In December, 1979, the NTSB dismissed the appeal because no brief had been filed. Counsel for the Federal Aviation Administration, the adverse party in the proceeding, assured accused she would not object to reopening of the appeal, but no petition for reopening the appeal was filed.
From the commencement of the appeal in June, 1979, until August, 1980, when the client terminated accused's representation, the client made about 40 telephone calls to the accused to determine whether the brief had been filed and to urge the accused to do so. Most of the calls reached an answering recorder or the accused's secretary. On each occasion, the client left a request that the accused return the call. On no occasion did the accused do so.
The client kept notes of the date and content of each telephone conversation. We need not recite each conversation, but the pattern was similar. The accused consistently said that he was working on the brief, that it will be ready and filed soon ("tomorrow," "Thursday," "weekend," etc.) and that he would send the client a copy. On one occasion, October 24 and 25, the accused told the client that he had finished the brief and had filed it. In his only written reply to the client, the accused wrote on November 27, 1979:
In February, 1980, the client hired another lawyer who pressed the accused to petition to reopen the appeal and to file the brief. The accused assured the second lawyer that he would do so immediately.
In April, 1980, the Assistant General Counsel of the Oregon State Bar inquired of the accused regarding the client's complaint. The accused wrote back that "I am therefore preparing a petition to the Board to request that it accept the appeal brief."
In July, 1980, this matter was before the Multnomah County Professional Responsibility Committee. The accused told an investigating member of that committee that he would promptly file a motion to reinstate the appeal and the brief.
In August, 1980, the client sent a registered letter to the accused terminating the relationship and requesting return of the file. The letter was returned unclaimed. The client sent it once more and receipt was acknowledged by the accused's wife who acted as his secretary. The request was not complied with.
We find, and the accused does not contest, that he neglected a legal matter entrusted to him in violation of DR 6-101(A)(3).
We also find that the accused's conduct constituted misrepresentation in violation of DR 1-102(A)(4). His repeated representations to his client and to others that he
We also find that the accused violated DR 7-101(A)(2) by intentionally failing to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services. The accused disputes only whether his failure to carry out the contract was intentional. He testified that at all times he intended to serve the client, but was unable to bring himself to actually do the work. The Bar counters that he intentionally did the acts which constituted a failure to carry out the contract and we agree. At some point, the accused's continuing act of omission, extending over a year, could no longer be characterized as procrastination. His failure to act despite the urgings of the client and the client's second lawyer, and despite his own knowledge of his professional duty to act, must be characterized as intentional conduct.
As intolerable as the accused's conduct was, the purpose of this proceeding is not to punish him but to restrict his license to practice law to the extent necessary for the protection of the public from future unethical conduct. To that end, we next inquire into the background of the accused and his ethical violations.
The conduct described above is uncharacteristic of the accused's practice. His academic performance in law and international relations was impressive. He spent the first 12 years of his practice in governmental employment of high responsibility, handling domestic and international matters of air travel and other transportation. In 1971, he returned to Oregon and entered private practice. We are unaware of any prior blemish on his record.
In January, 1980, the accused, acting out of concern for the manner in which he handled this client's affairs, sought psychiatric aid. His psychiatrist testified at the hearing that the accused was suffering from "burnt out syndrome," common to professionals. A common pattern of the syndrome is that a professional person feels obliged to help each person who seeks his help, takes on more work than he can handle, including work he finds unpleasant, and evades such work by procrastination and self-denial.
We conclude that the conduct of the accused was an isolated event caused by emotional difficulties with which he is now dealing effectively. Disbarment is not required for the protection of the public. On the other hand, his conduct is serious enough to warrant suspension. We therefore adopt the recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board that the accused be suspended. We also conclude that he should repay to the client $500, his retainer for the appeal to the NTSB. We therefore order that the accused be suspended from the practice of law for 30 days from the date this decision becomes final and thereafter until such time as the accused presents satisfactory evidence to this court that he has repaid $500 to his former client and a written statement by his psychiatrist that the accused is sufficiently free of emotional difficulties to competently practice law.
Accused suspended for 30 days. Judgment to Oregon State Bar for costs.
PETERSON, Justice, concurring.
The court's opinion should be required reading for every lawyer, for almost every practicing lawyer becomes involved in situations which create pressures and stresses akin to those which are present in this case.
The scenario is not unusual. A strong-willed, competent client (in this case, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel). An intelligent, successful attorney, highly trained in the subject matter involved in the matter at hand. An unsuccessful result. Inability of the lawyer to bring himself to do comparatively simple work which he was trained to do and was capable of doing, and which had to be done. And finally, inability of the lawyer to ask for help.
Almost every lawyer — almost every person, for that matter — encounters similar situations at one time or another. The non-lawyer may lose a job. The lawyer may lose a license to practice law. How can the lawyer recognize the danger signals? What should the lawyer do?
If a lawyer is in a group practice, opportunity exists for discussing the problem with associates.
The lawyer-client relationship is a complex one. Lawyers are trained to exclude emotional considerations from their analysis of most cases. Yet relations between a lawyer and a client involve the same type of emotional considerations as in many other interpersonal relationships and require highly developed communications skills. Lawyers must be alert to the emotions involved in practicing law. In a provocative article, Andrew Watson states:
Unfortunately, few lawyers are trained to detect the existence of a deteriorating client relationship or to discuss the causes of the problem.
Smith and Nester claim that the best place to develop lawyer-client communication skills is in the law school. Id. at 324. Mr. Watson echoes that view:
Over the years I have seen a host of intelligent, capable lawyers get into trouble because of their inability to recognize and resolve problems such as faced Loew in this case. I am not trained or skilled in psychological matters. The psychiatrist who testified for Mr. Loew in this case stated, "* * * [O]ne of the behavior skills that [one in Loew's position lacks] is the ability to go to somebody or anyone and ask for help, seek support when you're feeling like you're getting a little bit overwhelmed. * * *" One thing seems to be clear: The lawyer in that situation often is incapable or unwilling to face the problem (courts rarely say which, usually because the record lacks expert testimony such as we have in this case) and has lost the ability to discuss
The problem is complex. The decision as to the appropriate sanction in such cases is more difficult because the lawyer's motivation is different from that of the lawyer who steals or lies to obtain advantage. But the need for protection of the public and integrity in the administration of justice is as great as that which exists in the case of dishonest lawyers.
Incidentally, the accused testified that he did not find the client's behavior excessively aggressive or otherwise improper in any way. The references to the client in the psychiatrist's testimony relate more to the emotional effect on the accused than to the actual nature of the client's behavior.
See also, C. Kelso, Conflict, Emotion, and Legal Ethics, 10 Pac.L.J. 69 (1979).