‘I’ve by no means seen something like that’: State Supreme Courtroom weighs self-discipline for divorce lawyer | Courts

Irina Baranova

Distinguished household regulation lawyer Brenda L. Storey stated she was wrongly punished for merely asking a consumer in a divorce case to pay her, and for in the end utilizing cash from the wedding towards her invoice — a standard apply in such proceedings.

The Workplace of Lawyer Regulation Counsel, which prosecutes lawyer self-discipline circumstances, took a vastly totally different view of Storey’s determination to simply accept a $47,578.43 tax refund test — unbeknown to the husband within the case — and use it to pay her personal regulation agency for Storey’s illustration of the spouse.

“Ms. Storey didn’t have interaction within the typically accepted apply,” Assistant Regulation Counsel Justin P. Moore informed the Colorado Supreme Courtroom final week. He referenced the choice of a three-member disciplinary board, which concluded Storey acted with “a egocentric and dishonest motive.”

The justices heard the uncommon oral arguments in an lawyer self-discipline case on June 21, through which Storey is interesting the board’s discovering of a number of violations of the foundations {of professional} conduct. Final yr, the board decided Storey had disregarded her duties to her consumer, Cynthia Sullivan, and hid the existence of the Inside Income Service test to her consumer’s husband, Patrick Caldwell Sullivan.

The board’s ruling suspended Storey from the apply of regulation for one yr plus in the future.

Storey’s lawyer, Michael T. McConnell, characterised the listening to board’s determination as disciplining Storey primarily based on the opinions of a single skilled witness, with no precedent placing his consumer on discover that utilizing the IRS test to pay her authorized charges was unethical.

“What’s arduous for me in fascinated about that argument,” countered Justice Melissa Hart, “is the board, when it encounters a brand new set of details, goes to undertake requirements we have by no means utilized earlier than as a result of we have simply by no means heard this set of details earlier than. Are you saying a lawyer can solely be disciplined below circumstances we have already thought-about?”

It was undisputed in Storey’s disciplinary proceedings that she had a constructive repute amongst Colorado’s household regulation attorneys and no disciplinary historical past. Legal professionals who testified in opposition to her throughout the listening to acknowledged that they had referred shoppers to her or sought her experience up to now. They expressed shock about Storey’s habits within the Sullivans’ divorce case.

Cynthia Sullivan employed Storey in June 2018. Though there was substantial marital property at stake — $3.3 million, Storey stated — Caldwell Sullivan was the only real earner. Nearly the entire property have been marital, that means they might in the end be divided between the Sullivans by a choose.

Storey’s settlement with Cynthia said the consumer would pay Storey month-to-month, and that Storey had the precise to stop work on or withdraw totally from the case for nonpayment. Cynthia initially paid Storey by way of the marital property, which Caldwell offered. 

In late Might 2019, Caldwell positioned a cap on the American Categorical card Cynthia was utilizing to pay her lawyer charges. She was now delinquent in her funds to Storey.

If Caldwell “doesn’t pay my invoice by the twentieth, please begin promoting furnishings and furnishings,” Storey directed her consumer in a June 18 e mail. Two days later, she ordered Cynthia to promote furnishings on Fb and craigslist. Storey additionally threatened Caldwell’s lawyer, Jordan Fox, with contempt over the choice to chop off Cynthia’s credit score.

By July 20, Cynthia owed Storey greater than $37,000. Storey suggested Cynthia she would withdraw from the case, and as soon as once more informed her to promote the couple’s possessions. Solely after a listening to earlier than Arapahoe County District Courtroom Decide Peter Michaelson did Caldwell authorize $25,000 for his spouse to pay Storey. However a steadiness remained and Storey as soon as once more vented to Cynthia.

“You wouldn’t have a alternative as as to whether you pay me in full. To me, my invoice is the very best precedence over your sprinkler invoice, college provides, or in any other case. It must be for you as nicely, as I’ll stop representing you,” Storey informed her.

The evening of Aug. 1, 2019, Cynthia despatched Storey an apologetic e mail, however talked about a attainable answer that had arrived in her mailbox: a $47,000 test from the IRS that she might deliver to Storey to pay her invoice.

The next morning, Cynthia delivered the test, which was payable to each of the Sullivans, to Storey’s workplace, the place it was deposited right into a belief account. Just a few days later, Storey informed Cynthia by way of e mail that there was “no purpose for him (Caldwell) to search out out in regards to the tax refund simply but.” The identical day, Storey directed the cash from the IRS test be moved from the belief account to the regulation agency’s working account.

Nonetheless, the scenario between Cynthia and Storey didn’t enhance and Storey filed a movement to withdraw from the case. One other lawyer, Jennifer Alldredge, took over for Storey in early September. In an in depth dialog with Alldredge in regards to the case, Storey revealed the existence of the IRS test, and talked about she had not disclosed it to Caldwell.

As soon as Alldredge informed Caldwell’s lawyer in regards to the test, he filed a movement in courtroom asking for the return of the funds. Michaelson ordered the cash’s return on Friday, Sept. 27, giving Storey 48 hours to conform. She didn’t, as an alternative ready for a listening to greater than per week later. Michaelson ended up overturning his order, deciding he didn’t have jurisdiction over Storey.

It was not till March 2 that Storey reached an settlement with the Sullivans’ legal professionals to return the funds. Six months later, her lawyer self-discipline case started. Proceedings earlier than the listening to board in April 2021 centered on a collection of misconduct allegations: that Storey’s precedence on being paid represented a battle of curiosity, that she mishandled and hid the couple’s marital property, and that she disobeyed the choose’s order to relinquish the funds.

The board decided Storey had dedicated a number of violations within the case. Particularly, they discovered Storey put her personal cost forward of her consumer’s greatest curiosity by failing to advise Cynthia in regards to the dangers of promoting furnishings — specifically the danger of violating a provision of household regulation.

“I’ve by no means seen something like that the place a lawyer informed the consumer to promote furnishings. That is extraordinary,” Steven Lass, an skilled witness for the prosecution, testified.

The board additionally determined Storey violated Michaelson’s order to return the test, and he or she had “closed her eyes” to her obligation to reveal the test.

Alldredge, Cynthia’s second lawyer, “testified that any belief that remained between the Sullivans was ‘decimated’ by respondent’s dealing with of the IRS test. Alldredge estimated that every get together paid ‘nicely over $50,000.00’ in lawyer’s charges to power respondent to return the funds from the IRS test,” wrote then-Presiding Disciplinary Decide William R. Lucero within the board’s opinion.

Storey appealed to the Supreme Courtroom, the place a number of justices have been uneasy in regards to the board labeling a broad swath of Storey’s conduct as unethical.

“It feels at occasions as should you’re asking us to have her pilloried in entrance of the courtroom for utilizing language that the majority of us would discover unacceptable,” stated Justice William W. Hood III to the prosecution, referencing Storey’s emails.

Hart was essentially the most vocal critic of Storey’s habits, emphasizing Storey’s failure to reveal the IRS test was the larger difficulty, despite the fact that Caldwell’s determination to chop off his spouse’s credit score was “disgusting.”

“Why was it acceptable for Ms. Storey to inform her consumer, ‘You are not speaking to your husband about this tax cost’?” she requested. “What purpose might an lawyer have for pondering, below our system, that undisclosed marital property could possibly be used to pay” authorized payments.

McConnell replied that so long as marital property are disclosed earlier than the division of property, “it is OK.”

Though Storey had a number of alternatives to reveal the test throughout August 2019, together with at a listening to with the trial choose, she had not carried out so. One other key alternative of attainable disclosure was a settlement proposal Storey despatched to Caldwell’s lawyer, which included tax data. McConnell justified the omission there by calling the proposal merely “an try to start out dialogue.”

“But to start out it with out full data,” Hart stated.

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