This disciplinary matter is before the Court on the Petition for Voluntary Discipline filed by Amber C. Saunders (State Bar No. 827587), filed in March 2018, before the issuance of a formal complaint. See Bar Rule 4-227 (b) (2).
In her petition, Saunders explains the circumstances leading up to her misuse of the client funds. She explained that her boyfriend, with whom she shared an apartment, had an emotional downward spiral and failed to pay his portion of the expenses. Saunders, who had practiced on her own for less than a year, was unable to meet the couple's shared financial obligations, her credit was destroyed, and her car was repossessed. Her boyfriend then became abusive, causing Saunders to leave the apartment with only the clothes on her back and to give up her office space so that he would be unable to find her. Then in 2015, Saunders obtained $26,283.50 in an arbitration proceeding on behalf of an incarcerated client. She used the portion of the funds to which she was entitled as her fee to purchase a car, but the car broke down. Because Saunders was too embarrassed to seek help, she converted the client's funds for her own personal use to recover from the financial challenges brought on by her former relationship.
In mitigation, Saunders states that the client has been repaid in full; she has no prior disciplinary history; she cooperated with the disciplinary process by submitting a detailed letter of her misconduct to the Investigative Panel member assigned to the case; her actions were due to extreme emotional distress stemming from domestic violence; she has undergone counseling to rebuild her self-esteem to avoid similar problems in the future; she otherwise has good character and reputation as shown by letters of support from the legal community; and she is remorseful.
In its response, the State Bar does not dispute the facts presented by Saunders and confirms that the client was repaid, although the State Bar notes that the client had to wait a year for the funds. The State Bar argues that Saunders's conduct would support the aggravating factors of dishonesty and selfish motive, and agrees with the mitigating factors listed by Saunders.
Having reviewed the filings in this case, we find that a 12-month suspension is appropriate and is consistent with the sanctions imposed in similar cases involving the misuse of client funds. See, e.g.,
All the Justices concur.