Utah State Bar Ethics Hotline
Call the BarÕs Ethics Hotline at (801) 531-9110 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for fast, informal ethics advice. Leave a detailed message describing the problem and within a twenty-four hour workday period a lawyer from the Office of Professional Conduct will give you ethical help about small everyday matters and larger complex issues.
More information about the BarÕs Ethics Hotline may be found at www.utahbar.org/opc/opc_ethics_hotline.html. Information about the formal Ethics Advisory Opinion process can be found at www.utahbar.org/rules_ops_pols/index_of_opinions.html.
On October 17, 2011, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Admonition against an attorney for violation of Rules 1.8(a) (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients: Specific Rules) and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The attorney entered into a personal business transaction with the client without (a) reducing the terms of the transaction to writing; (b) advising the client to seek independent legal counsel; and (c) receiving informed written consent from the client. The attorney’s conduct was knowing and caused significant injury to the client.
Mitigating factors: Lack of prior discipline; Absence of dishonest motive; Timely effort to rectify situation by putting agreement in writing and paying a portion of the loan back; A cooperative attitude in the disciplinary proceedings, including conceding mistakes during the Screening Panel Hearing; Remorse.
On September 20, 2011, the Honorable Thomas Low, Fourth District Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Gary L. Blatter, for violation of Rules 8.4(d) (Misconduct) and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
A client met with a legal assistant with the law firm of Gary Blatter & Associates to represent her in divorce proceedings. The client paid a retainer to Blatter & Associates. Later the same day that she hired the firm, the client had second thoughts and contacted the legal assistant and told him to hold off on filing the divorce papers. Later, the client called Blatter & Associates and instructed the legal assistant to go forward with the divorce. Several months later the client’s husband had not been served with divorce papers, so the client spoke with a legal assistant by telephone and terminated the firm’s representation. The legal assistant indicated that there would be a refund to the client. After six weeks had passed, the client received a check and a statement for services. The client had not previously received any statements from Blatter & Associates. After the client filed a Bar complaint, Mr. Blatter prepared a proposed settlement agreement for the client to sign. The purpose of the proposed settlement agreement was for the client to drop her Bar complaint in exchange for $2500.
On September 19, 2011, the Honorable Glenn K. Iwasaki, Third District Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Roberto G. Culas, for violation of Rules 5.3(a) (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), 5.3(b) (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), 5.3(c) (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants), 5.5(a) (Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice lf Law), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Mr. Culas hired Jamis Johnson and Paul Schwenke to work as paralegals for him. When Mr. Culas hired Mr. Johnson and Mr. Schwenke, he knew that both had been disbarred for misconduct and that neither was licensed to practice law in Utah. Jamis Johnson and Paul Schwenke had a business called HOLD. Mr. Culas rented office space in the same building with HOLD. At some point, Mr. Johnson began providing legal advice to HOLD clients. Mr. Johnson also prepared legal documents on behalf of HOLD clients that were submitted to the court. The documents were stamped with Mr. Culas’ signature stamp and purported to have been filed by him. At all times at issue, the HOLD clients believed that Mr. Johnson was an attorney. Mr. Johnson wrote letters on behalf of the HOLD clients representing that he was an attorney working for Mr. Culas. An opposing attorney met with and communicated with Mr. Johnson, believing that he was a licensed attorney working for Mr. Culas. A memorandum was filed in Third District Court, with Mr. Culas as the attorney representing the HOLD clients, and including the stamped signature of Mr. Culas. Mr. Culas represented to the court that he had not prepared the document, although the document bore his signature.
On September 21, 2011, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against Charles A. Schultz for violation of Rules 1.1 (Competence), 3.5(d) (Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal), 8.4(d) (Misconduct), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In papers to the court, Mr. Schultz made continued miscitation of statutes which was more than a mere “typo.” The miscitation was noted by the District Court and not corrected on appeal. Mr. Schultz intentionally omitted the title of “judge” in referring to Justice Court Judges as a sign of disrespect and in protest intended to disrupt the court room and the administration of justice. In responding to the OPC’s inquiries, Mr. Schultz utilized the lowercase “j” in the word “judge,” continuing the showing of a lack of respect. Mr. Schultz’s behavior throughout the process was disrespectful, unprofessional and intended to prejudice the administration of justice. Mr. Schultz referred to judges as “revenue collectors in black dresses.” Mr. Schultz submitted a declaration of his client that contained disparaging remarks. The remarks called opposing counsel a “lying piece of trash” and made other inappropriate and unprofessional comments. Mr. Schultz also used derogatory language to describe the investigation at the OPC. Mr. Schultz repeatedly cited the OPC’s investigation as “asinine” and “absolute nonsense.” Mr. Schultz violated the Rules of Professional Conduct knowingly and intentionally. The level of injury is significant in that the profession as a whole (and the public) is affected by this negative behavior and it contributes to an unprofessional view of lawyers.
On October 17, 2011, the Chair of the Ethics and Discipline Committee of the Utah Supreme Court entered an Order of Discipline: Public Reprimand against David O. Black for violation of Rules 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4(a) (Communication), 1.5(a) (Fees), 1.5(b) (Fees), and 8.4(a) (Misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
A client hired Mr. Black to represent her in three matters: a divorce case; a protective order case; and a criminal case.
With respect to fees:
Mr. Black promised to charge a rate of $150 an hour but then later billed his client at the rate of $275 an hour. An integration clause in the Fee Agreement was not a defense or excuse for an ethical violation. Mr. Black also inadvertently charged 3.0 hours for his and the client’s attendance at an August hearing in the criminal proceeding. However, no parties or their attorneys appeared at the hearing because the hearing had been cancelled. Despite the incorrect billing charge, Mr. Black has neither reversed the charge nor refunded the fees paid against this charge.
With respect to competence:
Mr. Black advised his client to continue filing for unemployment benefits rather than seeking temporary support. Mr. Black claims he told his client that temporary support would require a “claim that she was incapable of working which would have been inconsistent with her claim for unemployment,” and that she elected to continue seeking unemployment benefits. However, the client’s subsequent counsel secured temporary benefits for her while she continued to receive unemployment benefits.
With respect to diligence:
Mr. Black was not diligent in pursuing temporary support for his client as she repeatedly requested. Mr. Black’s office did attempt to obtain financial information from the client’s ex, but their efforts to obtain voluntary compliance took four months, which was unreasonable in light of the client’s circumstances and the need for immediate relief and the other avenues available for more expedited production (or estimation) of the necessary information.
With respect to communication:
Mr. Black did not reasonably respond to his client’s repeated requests for communications, personal meetings and preparation sessions throughout the representation. Apart from his attendance at hearings with his client, Mr. Black’s bill discloses only limited contacts between Mr. Black and his client. Likewise, the substance of the emails reflect very little direct contact between the client and Mr. Black. Mr. Black concedes that he overestimated his capability to emotionally handle the communications demands imposed by a client with his client’s emotional needs.
All of Mr. Black’s misconduct was negligent and caused a level of harm to the client.
On September 19, 2011, the Honorable Denise P. Lindberg, Third Judicial District Court, entered an Order of Interim Suspension Pursuant to Rule 14-519 of the Rules of Lawyer Discipline and Disability, suspending Cheri K. Gochberg from the practice of law pending final disposition of the Complaint filed against her.
On November 5, 2010, Ms. Gochberg was charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs (four counts), Possession or Use of A Controlled Substance (two counts), Reckless Driving, and No Proof of Insurance. On March 25, 2011, Ms. Gochberg pled guilty to and was convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs, a third degree felony, for that incident.
On March 4, 2011, Ms. Gochberg was charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs while an Alcohol Restricted Driver. On March 28, 2011, Ms. Gochberg pled guilty to and was convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs, a third degree felony. These felony convictions were Ms. Gochberg’s fourth and fifth related DUI convictions within the last ten years. The interim suspension is based upon the felony convictions.