ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN DISCIPLINE
This is an original proceeding in discipline filed by the office of the Disciplinary Administrator against respondent, Patrick S. Bishop, of Fort Scott, an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 1979. A hearing panel of the Kansas Board for the Discipline of Attorneys conducted a formal hearing, as required by Kansas Supreme Court Rule 211 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 304).
The hearing panel concluded that Bishop violated Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct (KRPC) as follows: KRPC 1.1 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 384) (competence); KRPC 1.3 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 398) (diligence); KRPC 1.4 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 413) (communication); KRPC 3.2 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 503) (expediting litigation); KRPC 8.1(b) (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 553) (bar admission and disciplinary matters); KRPC 8.4(c) and (d) (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 559) (misconduct). Additionally, Bishop was held to have violated Kansas Supreme Court Rule 207(b) (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 288) (duties of the bar and judiciary). The hearing panel unanimously recommended that Bishop be suspended from the practice of law for a period of 1 year. Bishop filed exceptions to the final hearing report pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 212 (2007 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 317).
Hearing Panel's Findings of Fact
Bishop practices law in Fort Scott, Kansas. David and Diana Fletcher are residents of Fort Scott, and because they were acquaintances of Bishop, they hired him in two separate matters. This action arose out of complaints regarding Bishop's handling of those two cases; the complaints were docketed separately with the disciplinary administrator's office as DA9675 and DA9866.
On June 10, 1999, Mr. Fletcher was injured when the pickup truck he was driving was struck by another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle ran a stop sign and was traveling at a high rate of speed. As a result of the accident, Mr. Fletcher sustained a broken bone in his hand, an injury to his elbow, an injury to his shoulder, and an injury to his back. He also incurred associated medical expenses. Mr. Fletcher's truck was damaged to an extent that exceeded the truck's value. At the time of the accident, Mr. Fletcher worked as an over-the-road driver. Because of the accident, however, Mr. Fletcher was unable to work and incurred lost wages.
Following the accident, Mr. Fletcher retained Bishop to file suit against the other driver. Mr. Fletcher paid Bishop $300 for the representation. Bishop failed to reduce the fee agreement to writing.
Two days before the statute of limitations ran on Mr. Fletcher's claim, Bishop filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Fletcher in the District Court of Crawford County, Kansas. Bishop failed to obtain service of process on the defendant despite the fact that the defendant resided in Crawford County. Because Bishop failed to obtain service, the district court dismissed the case on September 13, 2001. At the hearing on the formal complaint, Bishop admitted that the liability of the other vehicle was "clear cut," and the only issue remaining was the amount of damages due Mr. Fletcher.
Bishop did not inform Mr. Fletcher of the dismissal until August 2005. From the time Bishop was retained and continuing to August 2005, Mr. Fletcher repeatedly asked Bishop for updates regarding the status of his lawsuit. Bishop responded by repeatedly providing false information regarding the status of the case. Some of the false explanations included: a trial date had been continued to a new date; the courthouse was being remodeled; the judge retired and the case was on hold until a new judge was appointed; a criminal case scheduled for trial took priority; and discovery issues had arisen in the case when, in fact, no discovery was ever exchanged or conducted. Finally, Bishop falsely told Mr. Fletcher the case was scheduled for trial August 6, 2005. At the time Bishop made each of the statements to Mr. Fletcher, he knew the case had been dismissed and that the statements were false. Because Mr. Fletcher personally knew Bishop, he did not question the extreme delays in the case.
While representing Mr. Fletcher, Bishop took a job with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services as a Child Support Enforcement Agent. Bishop failed to inform Mr. Fletcher that he was closing his private practice and failed to provide his contact information. Mr. Fletcher happened to find Bishop at his office when he was packing. At that time, Bishop assured Mr. Fletcher that he would still be able to represent him as he had been granted such permission from his employer.
When Mr. Fletcher asked Bishop about his failure to inform him of his new job and address, Bishop claimed to have sent him the information in a letter. Mr. Fletcher said he never received such a letter, so Bishop promised to send Mr. Fletcher another letter with the contact information. Bishop failed to do so.
In August 2005, Bishop sent Mr. Fletcher a letter finally informing him that the case had been dismissed years before. The letter provided:
"I wanted to advise you that there will be no trial next week, or for that matter, on any other date. Unfortunately the case was dismissed some time ago as I was never able to get the defendant served with process. I apologize for misleading you. I perfectly understand if you believe that there are steps that must be taken to seek recompense for your damages.
"Under the circumstances I do not believe it would be best for us to meet as I believe it would be a rather contentious situation. I will copy my file and forward it to you."
Subsequently, Mr. Fletcher sought advice and representation from another lawyer and then filed suit against Bishop. At the time of the formal hearing, the suit remained pending, and settlement negotiations were underway.
In the second case, Mrs. Fletcher retained Bishop to assist her in post-divorce matters by preparing and filing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). The QDRO was to divide Mrs. Fletcher's former husband's stock and pension plans between Mrs. Fletcher and her former husband. Mrs. Fletcher paid Bishop $200 for the representation.
From 1995 to early 2006, the Fletchers asked Bishop on numerous occasions for an update on the status of the QDRO. In response to their inquiries, Bishop provided false excuses. He falsely told the Fletchers that he was working on it and also that the QDRO was in the mail. In the August 2005 letter in which he told the Fletchers of his failure to act, he stated: "I have sent another QDRO to Ennis Business Forms so hopefully Diana's matter will finally be resolved." Despite these representations, Bishop failed to complete the QDRO during the 11-year period of representing Mrs. Fletcher.
On March 12, 2006, Mrs. Fletcher filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Administrator's office. On March 29, 2006, the Disciplinary Administrator wrote to Bishop and informed him that he was required to provide a written response to the complaint within 20 days, yet Bishop provided no written response.
In January 2007, Jeffrey Chubb, the investigator appointed to investigate Mrs. Fletcher's complaint, wrote to Bishop. Chubb directed Bishop to provide a written response to the complaint and requested that he complete his client file within 30 days. Bishop still ...