Disciplinary Actions from the Most Recent Journal

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Orders entered since publication of the last Journal can be found on the Disciplinary Orders page.


Most Recent Actions

Disbarments

Garey M. Ballance of Henderson filed an affidavit of surrender of his law license and was disbarred by the Disciplinary Hearing Commission. Balance acknowledged that he misappropriated entrusted funds by failing to deposit into his trust account funds received from clients for costs, fines, and other obligations and by writing trust account checks to or for clients for whose benefit no funds were held in the trust account.

L.J. Blackwood of Greensboro surrendered his license and was disbarred by the State Bar Council at its October 2015 meeting. Blackwood acknowledged that he misappropriated entrusted funds totaling at least $87,938.

Donald H. Bumgardner of Gastonia surrendered his license and was disbarred by the Wake County Superior Court. Bumgardner acknowledged that he misappropriated entrusted funds totaling in excess of $1,000,000.

Greenville lawyer Adrian A. Garcia surrendered his law license and was disbarred by the State Bar Council at its October 2015 meeting. Garcia admitted that he abandoned his law practice and misappropriated entrusted funds totaling approximately $4,000.

Franklin McDevin Huggins of Trenton surrendered his license and was disbarred by the Wake County Superior Court. Huggins acknowledged that he misappropriated entrusted funds totaling at least $8,960.

Andrew Patterson, previously of Sylva and currently of Jacksonville, engaged in a pattern of abusive and disruptive conduct toward courts, opposing counsel and clients, neglected multiple clients, forged a falsely notarized verification, and did not timely respond to the State Bar. He was disbarred by the DHC.

William Sage of Oriental surrendered his license and was disbarred by the State Bar Council at its October 2015 meeting. Sage acknowledged that he misappropriated entrusted funds totaling approximately $43,500.

Suspensions & Stayed Suspensions

Jeffrey Baker of Wilmington signed two clients’ names to a verification without getting permission from both clients to do so, notarized his own “signature” of the clients’ names, and filed the verification with the court. He also returned a client file by taping it to his exterior office door, did not communicate with clients, and was not diligent. He was suspended for one year.

Durham lawyer Paul Brock engaged in a sexual relationship with a client and made false and misleading statements to the Grievance Committee in an effort to undermine the client’s credibility. The DHC suspended him for two years. After serving one year of the suspension, Brock will be eligible to petition for a stay of the remaining suspension upon showing compliance with enumerated conditions.

Steve Combs of Cary did not maintain proper trust account records and did not timely pay title insurance premiums. The DHC suspended him for three years. After serving one year of the suspension, Combs will be eligible to petition for a stay of the balance upon showing compliance with numerous conditions.

Jeffrey Smith of Charlotte did not conduct monthly and quarterly reconciliations of his trust account, disbursed more entrusted funds for clients than he held on their behalf, and wrote a check payable to cash from his trust account. The DHC suspended him for two years. The suspension is stayed for three years conditioned upon Smith’s compliance with numerous conditions.

Interim Suspensions

The chair of the DHC entered an order of interim suspension in the case of Durham lawyer Warren Ballentine. Ballentine was convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois of one count of mail fraud affecting a financial institution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, one count of wire fraud affecting a financial institution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, two counts of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, and two counts of making false statements to financial institutions in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1014.

The Wake County Superior Court suspended Rutherfordton lawyer Marvin Ray Sparrow pending an investigation into allegations of professional misconduct.

Censures

Sara Jones of Huntsville, Alabama was censured by the Grievance Committee. Jones submitted a false annual report form to the North Carolina Board of Continuing Legal Education in support of her request to waive a late filing fee.

The Grievance Committee censured John Miller of Cary. Miller acted as an “independent contractor” providing legal services as a representative of an out-of-state law firm not authorized to provide legal services in North Carolina. He also participated as an attorney in an unregistered prepaid legal services plan. In his relationships with both organizations, Miller assisted others in the unauthorized practice of law and shared fees with nonlawyers.

Moshera Mills of Greensboro was censured by the Grievance Committee. Her client’s petition for resolution of disputed fee was closed because Mills did not participate in the process in good faith. When the client filed a court action for return of legal fees, Mills represented to the court that the client’s fee dispute petition had been dismissed. Mills led the court to believe the State Bar had considered and rejected the client’s contentions, which was not true.

Timothy Mullinax of Hendersonville was censured by the Grievance Committee for leading his client to believe that pleadings were filed in the client’s case, when Mullinax had not filed pleadings. He also failed to respond promptly to follow-up questions posed by the staff attorney during the investigation of the grievance.

Reprimands

The Grievance Committee reprimanded Hiram Bell of Jacksonville. Bell did not properly supervise an employee, did not properly supervise the recordkeeping of his firm’s trust account, and did not conduct quarterly and monthly reconciliations of his firm’s trust account. The lack of supervision made it possible for an employee to steal cash delivered to the firm in trust.

The Grievance Committee reprimanded Stephen Corby of Charlotte. Corby made false representations to his client and misled his client to believe Corby had filed a complaint on his behalf when he had not done so. When he did eventually file the complaint, Corby did not make diligent efforts to obtain service, did not monitor the case, and did not inform his client that the lawsuit was dismissed for failure to prosecute.

James L. Goldsmith of Zirconia was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Goldsmith agreed to serve as “of counsel” for an out-of-state law firm not authorized to provide legal services in North Carolina, thereby assisting others in the unauthorized practice of law. Goldsmith also shared a fee with a nonlawyer and made false or misleading statements about his services.

Stephen Holton of Lexington was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Holton did not properly reconcile his trust account, did not render written accountings for entrusted funds, and maintained inadequate trust account documentation. Holton delegated responsibility for trust accounting to a nonlawyer assistant whom he did not adequately supervise. The lack of supervision made it possible for the employee to embezzle entrusted funds. In determining that a reprimand was the appropriate discipline, the committee considered Holton’s lack of prior discipline, his cooperation with the State Bar, and the corrective measures he took after the theft was discovered.

Joan Mitchell of Durham was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Mitchell undertook to pursue a medical malpractice claim on behalf of an estate. After she obtained an extension of the statute of limitations to gather medical records and identify a medical expert, Mitchell did not obtain medical records and did not make a genuine effort to locate a qualified medical expert willing to testify in support of the claim. Mitchell did not notify her client of this deficiency and instead filed a frivolous complaint.

Raleigh lawyer Renorda Pryor was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. When Pryor left the law firm where she practiced law, she did not take appropriate steps to ensure that her clients’ interests were protected. In one case, she undertook to file but did not file a Rule 59 motion on behalf of her clients. In another case, Pryor did not obtain the court’s leave to withdraw from representing another client but did not appear in court on that client’s behalf.

James Reaves of Reidsville was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Reaves represented a client who was convicted on criminal charges. A judge granted the client’s motion for appropriate relief, concluding that Reaves rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. The judge also removed Reaves from the court appointed list for felony cases for at least one year.

Charlotte lawyer Brian Schrimsher was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. Schrimsher qualified as the administrator of an estate but did not timely file a final accounting despite orders from the clerk of court to do so. Schrimsher also did not comply with the clerk’s order to appear and show cause why he did not file the final accounting.

The Grievance Committee reprimanded Sean Soboleski of Asheville. Soboleski attempted to collect an illegal fee by asserting to his client that a charging lien existed when no judgment had been entered in his client’s lemon law case. Soboleski also disbursed to himself, against his client’s wishes, entrusted funds belonging to his client in purported payment of fees owed to Sobleski’s wife for legal work she performed in an unrelated matter.

The Grievance Committee reprimanded Stephen Turner of Raleigh. Turner called his client’s sister as a witness in a criminal case. Turner knew the sister was also charged with a crime arising out of the incident and that she was represented by counsel who was not present. Turner did not advise the witness of her right not to incriminate herself. When the court realized that the witness had pending related charges, Turner falsely represented to the court that the witness’s counsel consented for her to testify in his absence.

Transfers to Disability Inactive Status

Clinton Orville Light of Eden was transferred to disability inactive status by the DHC.

Stays of Existing Suspensions

In June 2014 the DHC suspended William T. Batchelor of Wilmington for three years. The DHC found that Batchelor collected excessive funds for expenses and mismanaged his trust account by commingling funds, failing to properly identify entrusted funds, failing to list the sources of cash deposits, failing to properly document expenses paid from his trust account, and failing to reconcile. The order provided that after serving one year of the suspension, Batchelor could petition for a stay of the balance. The DHC granted his petition for stay on September 9, 2015.

In September 2013 the DHC suspended Jason A.M. Gold of Raleigh for five years. Gold represented a couple in an unusual commercial loan transaction. After his clients left the closing, Gold discovered that one of the clients had not signed all closing documents and, with her consent, Gold notarized or acknowledged her purported signature on five closing documents despite the fact that she was not present and did not sign those documents in his presence. Thereafter, Gold made false statements to the Notary Enforcement Section of the Secretary of State’s Office and signed an affidavit containing false statements that his clients’ adversary used in support of summary judgment against Gold’s clients. The order provided that after serving two years of the suspension, Gold could petition for a stay of the balance. On September 28, 2015, the Secretary signed an order staying the remaining period of suspension.

Reinstatements

Jeffrey S. Berman of Greensboro was suspended for one year in May 2013. The DHC found that Berman brought a frivolous custody action, made a false representation to the court, and concealed material information from the court while requesting ex parte relief. The order was stayed until September 19, 2014 while Berman appealed the order of discipline and petitioned the Supreme Court unsuccessfully for a writ of supersedeas. On September 28, 2015, the secretary signed an order reinstating Berman to active status.

In July 2012, Benjamin S. Small of Concord was suspended for two years. The DHC found that he had ex parte communications with the court, filed frivolous claims, and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, all in an effort to collect a guardian ad litem fee. The DHC also found that, in a separate criminal case, Small filed a frivolous motion and took other actions that had no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or burden a third party. On July 20, 2015, the secretary signed an order reinstating Small to the practice of law in North Carolina.

In December 2014 the DHC suspended Paul L. Whitfield of Charlotte for two years for refusing to withdraw from a personal injury case after the client terminated the representation, filing an improper incompetency petition against his former client, issuing improper subpoenas and deposition notices, and filing a frivolous lawsuit against his former client’s new attorney. The order provided that after serving six months of the suspension, Whitfield could petition for a stay of the balance. On September 2, 2015, the secretary signed an order staying the remaining period of suspension.

Stays and Reinstatements Denied

On September 20, 2012, the DHC suspended Dawn Johnson of Mebane for three years for numerous Rule violations including engaging in dishonest conduct. After serving one year of the suspension, Johnson was eligible to petition for a stay of the balance. On July 31, 2015, the hearing panel denied Johnson’s petition.

Dismissals

It was alleged that Charles Edwards of Winston-Salem engaged in a conflict of interest, attempted to delete email related to the conflict from his employer’s server, and created documents for use in litigation that he knew contained false information. He died on September 10, 2015. The State Bar filed a notice of dismissal in the pending DHC action.

It was alleged that Gretchen Engel of Durham prepared, or reviewed and approved, affidavits she should have known contained inaccurate information that were submitted to the court by another lawyer. The DHC did not find a Rule violation and dismissed the complaint.

Notice of Intent to Seek Reinstatement

Individuals who wish to note their concurrence with or opposition to this petition should file written notice with the secretary of the State Bar, PO Box 25908, Raleigh, NC, 27611, before February 1, 2016.

In the Matter of Richard S. Poe
Notice is hereby given that Richard S. Poe of Charlotte, North Carolina, intends to file a petition for reinstatement before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar. Poe surrendered his license and was disbarred June 30, 2010, for accepting checks for certain legal work that he performed, failing to turn over the checks or the proceeds of these checks to his law firm, and endorsing these checks and depositing them into his personal account, including in some instances endorsing the name of one of the firm members without the firm member’s authorization or consent.

THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR
217 E. Edenton Street (27601) • PO Box 25908 • Raleigh, NC 27611-5908 • 919.828.4620
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