In this disciplinary proceeding, the complainant, Oklahoma Bar Association (Bar Association), alleges two counts of misconduct by the respondent, John R. Blackburn (Blackburn). The cause is presented to the Court with agreed stipulations of fact, conclusions of law, and an agreed recommendation for discipline. Blackburn admits to the neglect of a legal matter
Blackburn is a duly licensed attorney and a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association. In early 1988, the father of a convicted felon retained Blackburn to file an appeal on behalf of his son. Blackburn filed a petition in error and the original record,
During the time period involved with the criminal conviction, Blackburn was experiencing severe alcohol and prescription drug problems. He entered a drug treatment program in October of 1989, and he has been drug-free since that time. Blackburn continues to attend regular support meetings to insure that his alcohol and drug problems remain controlled.
On June 11, 1989, Susan Bradshaw (Bradshaw/wife) contacted Blackburn by telephone and recruited him to handle her divorce. In this conversation, she revealed a number of factors about her finances, requests for alimony and child support, and custody considerations. On June 23, 1989, Blackburn wrote to Bradshaw stating that he had been contacted by her husband and was filing suit for divorce on the husband's behalf. Blackburn had evidently been a family friend of the husband for a number of years.
Blackburn filed a petition in the divorce action on June 20, 1989, and an amended petition on August 8. On August 28, 1989, Blackburn appeared to defend against the wife's motion to dismiss. At that time, the wife did not object to Blackburn's representation of her husband. The husband picked up his file, and Blackburn took no further action in the cause.
On December 14, 1990, the Bar Association filed a complaint alleging two counts of misconduct, and the respondent answered on December 26. A joint recommendation for proposed stipulations of fact, conclusions of law and a recommendation for discipline was presented to the trial panel on March 5, 1991. The Bar Association's unopposed application to assess costs was filed on March 15, 1991.
IN THE PRESENCE OF MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES, NEGLECT OF A LEGAL MATTER, AND A CHARGE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARRANT A PUBLIC CENSURE AND IMPOSITION OF COSTS.
Because of his substance-abuse problems, Blackburn neglected to file a brief on behalf of his client in the criminal appeal. In State of Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Borders, 777 P.2d 929-930 (Okla. 1989), we found that failure to communicate with a criminal defendant's mother and with the public defender's office, and failing to preserve property of a client and to act diligently to represent the client's interests, warranted public censure, absent affirmative acts of harmful conduct.
Although Bradshaw's filing of the grievance against Blackburn is evidence of her displeasure in his representation of her husband in the divorce proceeding, she did not object to the representation when the motion to dismiss was filed. Blackburn did nothing further in the divorce proceeding. He was a long-time family friend of the husband, but he should have recognized the potential for a conflict-of-interest in his representation of the husband after having conversed with Bradshaw concerning the divorce proceeding — a lawyer can serve but one master.
Upon a de novo review
RESPONDENT PUBLICLY CENSURED; COSTS IMPOSED.
HODGES, V.C.J., and LAVENDER, DOOLIN, HARGRAVE and ALMA WILSON, JJ., concur.
OPALA, C.J., with whom SIMMS, J., joins, dissenting.
I dissent from the lenient discipline imposed today for the serious infractions charged in the multi-count complaint.
Rule 1.16(a)(2), Rules of Professional Conduct, 5 O.S.Supp. 1988 Ch. 1, App. 3-A, provides:
Conflict-of-interest: State of Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. McNaughton, see note 5, supra.