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From the Winter 2022 Journal

NOTE: More than 30,500 people are licensed to practice law in North Carolina. Some share the same or similar names. All discipline reports may be checked on the State Bar’s website at ncbar.gov/dhcorders.

Disbarments

Meghan E. Ashworth of Raleigh surrendered her law license and was disbarred by the State Bar Council at its October meeting. Ashworth admitted that she diverted legal fees that lawfully belonged to and should have been paid over to her law firm employer.

Suspensions & Stayed Suspensions

Thomas C. Flippin of Elkin improperly disbursed funds from his trust account; did not conduct required trust account reconciliations; did not always identify the client on trust account checks and deposit slips; did not maintain sufficient records to identify the owners of entrusted funds in his trust account; and did not timely disburse funds from his trust account. The DHC suspended Flippin’s law license for two years. The suspension is stayed for two years upon his compliance with enumerated conditions.

Timothy Gunther of Raleigh falsely held himself out as eligible to be elected as district court judge in a district in which he did not reside; falsely stated his residential address on a Voter Registration Application that he signed under penalty of perjury; falsely stated his residential address on a Notice of Candidacy form that he swore/affirmed to be true; used his newly-but-falsely-established voter registration address to prove residency in District 10F to Wake County Board of Elections personnel and to induce the director of the Wake County Board of Elections to certify that he was a resident of District 10F; and changed his addresses in other records to further the appearance that he resided at an address at which he did not reside. The DHC suspended Gunther for two years.

Camille Hill of Asheville did not obtain her client’s written consent to a division of attorney’s fees among herself, her former law firm, and a lawyer at another firm; did not advise her client that she could have remained a client of Hill’s former law firm before transferring her client’s case to another lawyer; made misrepresentations to the Grievance Committee; collected a clearly excessive fee; and did not deposit disputed mixed funds into a trust account until the dispute regarding those funds was resolved. The DHC suspended Hill for one year. The suspension is stayed for two years upon her compliance with enumerated conditions.

Kelly R. Routh of Charlotte diverted to herself cash payment of a fee to which her law firm employer was entitled. The DHC suspended her for five years. She will be eligible to apply for a stay after serving one year of active suspension.

Completed Motions to Show Cause

In April 2019, the DHC suspended Meredith P. Ezzell of Carolina Beach for three years. Ezzell neglected and failed to communicate adequately with her clients, charged fees for services not performed, did not refund unearned fees, allowed her nonlawyer paralegal to provide legal services, did not properly maintain trust account records, and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The suspension was stayed for three years on enumerated conditions. The State Bar alleged that Ezzell did not comply with the conditions and moved to activate the suspension. On September 9 the DHC lifted the stay and activated the suspension.

Completed Grievance Noncompliance Actions before the DHC

Brooke M. Crump of Lake Tillery failed to produce documents and other information responsive to a subpoena for cause audit issued by the chair of the Grievance Committee. At the conclusion of a hearing on the DHC’s order to show cause why her license should not be suspended for grievance non-compliance, the chair of the DHC determined that Crump was non-compliant, had no justifiable basis for being non-compliant, and gave her an additional five days to comply fully with the subpoena. When Crump did not fully comply within five days, the chair suspended her law license.

Orders of Reciprocal Discipline

Alexander Zolfaghari of Arizona, in cases involving numerous clients, neglected and abandoned clients’ cases, did not refund unearned fees, made false statements during the disciplinary investigation, did not abide by court orders, did not appear for court hearings, closed his law practice without notifying clients, engaged in intentional dishonest conduct, and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Zolfaghari’s license was suspended by the Supreme Court of Arizona for five years. The Grievance Committee imposed reciprocal discipline, suspending Zolfaghari’s North Carolina license for five years.

David Harley of South Carolina was reprimand by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. He did not promptly render an accounting of entrusted funds, neglected a client’s case, did not respond to a regulatory authority, and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Grievance Committee imposed a reciprocal reprimand.

Reprimands

J. Darren Byers of Winston-Salem was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee. He engaged in conduct establishing a pattern of delay, procrastination, forgetfulness, or carelessness indicating a reckless disregard of his professional duties; did not adequately communicate with and reasonably consult with his client; and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Byers did not address his client’s outstanding motions for appropriate relief for several years. He also threatened that he would “come after” the complainant for filing this grievance.

The Grievance Committee reprimanded George Miller of Charlotte. In 2011, a client hired Miller to help secure legal permanent resident status in the United States. Miller did not timely provide necessary documents in response to an audit notification by the Department of Labor, which resulted in denial of the client’s application. When the Department of Labor refused to re-open the audit period for the application, Miller appealed but later withdrew the appeal without his client’s knowledge. Throughout the representation, Miller consistently failed to respond to his client’s reasonable requests for information and failed to keep his client informed about the status of the case.

George Norris of New Bern was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee for engaging in a conflict of interest and disclosing confidential client information. Norris represented a client in a criminal case. He later undertook to represent her friend in a civil action against her and used the first client’s confidential information to her detriment and for the benefit of the second client.

Gerald Parker of Asheboro was reprimanded by the Grievance Committee for entering into an improper business transaction with a client and engaging in a conflict of interest. Parker directed his wife to lend money to a client and represented both the client and his wife during the closing of that transaction. Parker was the named trustee and had personal and financial interests in the matter. When the client failed to repay the loan, Parker assisted the substitute trustee in pursuing foreclosure against the client.

The Grievance Committee reprimanded Michelle L. Vereckey of Monroe for initiating multiple wire transfers without verifying the wiring instructions, which were fraudulent.

Completed Petitions for Reinstatement/Stay – Uncontested

Steven J. Allen of Hendersonville was suspended for one year by the DHC in 2020 for having sexual relations with a domestic client. He was reinstated after demonstrating that he had complied with the conditions for reinstatement.

Completed Petitions for Reinstatement/Stay – Contested

Daniel S. Rufty of Charlotte was suspended for five years. The DHC found that Rufty committed criminal acts; aided in the criminal practice of debt adjusting; did not supervise his nonlawyer assistants; made false or misleading statements about his services; and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty or misrepresentation. The order of discipline provided that, after he served six months of the suspension, Rufty could petition for a stay of the balance upon demonstrating compliance with enumerated conditions. On September 1, the DHC concluded that Rufty did not comply with the enumerated conditions and denied his petition for stay.

Transfers to Disability Inactive Status

Sarah E. Salton of Charlotte was transferred to disability inactive status.

Notices of Intent to Seek Reinstatement

In the Matter of Gregory Bartko

Notice is hereby given that Gregory Bartko of Atlanta, Georgia, intends to file a petition for reinstatement before the North Carolina Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar. Bartko was disbarred effective November 18, 2010, pursuant to a Consent Order of Disbarment entered in the Wake County Superior Court dated February 8, 2011, in Wake County Superior Court Case No. 11CV001961.

In the Matter of Douglas T. Simons

Notice is hereby given that Douglas T. Simons of Charlotte, NC, intends to file a petition for reinstatement before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar. Simons was disbarred in 2005 pursuant to an Order of Disbarment dated April 15, 2005, upon an affidavit of tender of surrender of license by Simons admitting to misappropriation of at least $300,000 in client funds from his trust account, using the misappropriated funds for his own personal use over a period of three years, and presenting false documentation to investigators for the State Bar.

Individuals who wish to note their concurrence with or opposition to these petitions should file written notice with the secretary of the State Bar, PO Box 25908, Raleigh, NC 27611-5908, before February 1, 2023. n

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