In the Matter of Ann Gottberg SODERBERG, Respondent.
Alexander M. Walczak, Deputy Disciplinary Administrator, argued the cause, and Stanton A. Hazlett, Disciplinary Administrator, was with him on the formal complaint for the petitioner.
Michael J. Studtmann, of The Law Offices of Michael J. Studtmann, P.A., of Wichita, argued the cause, and Ann Gottberg Soderberg, respondent, argued the cause pro se.
ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN DISCIPLINE.
This is an original proceeding in discipline filed by the office of the Disciplinary Administrator against the respondent, Ann Gottberg Soderberg, of Wichita, an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 1992.
On January 16, 2013, the office of the Disciplinary Administrator filed a formal complaint against the respondent alleging violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct (KRPC) and filed a supplement to the formal complaint on March 1, 2013. On March 14, 2013, the office of the Disciplinary Administrator filed a second formal complaint alleging violations of the KRPC. The respondent untimely filed an answer the day before the hearing on this matter on June 17, 2013. A hearing was held on the complaint before a panel of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys on June 18, 2013.
The hearing panel determined that respondent violated KRPC 1.3 (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 464) (diligence); 1.4(a) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 484) (communication); 1.16(d) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 569) (termination of representation); 3.2 (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 587) (expediting litigation); 3.3(a)(1) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 594) (candor toward tribunal); 8.1(b) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 646) (failure to respond to lawful demand for information from disciplinary authority); Kansas Supreme Court Rules 207(b) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 336) (failure to cooperate in disciplinary investigation); [298 Kan. 821] and 211(b) (2013 Kan. Ct. R. Annot. 356) (failure to file answer in disciplinary proceeding).
Upon conclusion of the hearing, the panel made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, together with its recommendation to this court:
" FINDINGS OF FACT
" 13. In April, 2009, L.B.W. retained the respondent to represent him in a pending divorce proceeding in the Sedgwick County District Court. On August 26, 2009, the respondent filed a motion for enforcement of the journal entry and decree of divorce and other relief. After the court granted the respondent's motion, in September, 2009, the court directed the respondent to prepare a journal entry memorializing the decision. The respondent failed to prepare the journal entry.
" 14. In March, 2010, the respondent filed a motion for sanctions against L.B.W.'s former wife for violating the court's orders from September, 2009, on behalf of L.B.W.
" 15. In April, 2010, the court took up the respondent's motion and again ruled in
favor of the respondent's client, L.B.W. Again, the court directed the respondent to prepare an order memorializing the court's ruling. The respondent failed to prepare an order memorializing the court's ruling.
" 16. Throughout the period of representation, L.B.W. contacted the respondent for information. The respondent failed to return L.B.W.'s telephone calls and failed to respond to L.B.W.'s electronic mail messages."
" 17. In January, 2011, the respondent left her employment with Lambdin, Soderberg & Lambdin.
" 18. On January 24, 2011, the respondent wrote to L.B.W. and agreed to complete the order memorializing the September, 2009, hearing. The respondent, however, failed to prepare an order.
" 19. On January 31, 2011, the court held another hearing. During the hearing, the respondent advised the court that she did not prepare the order because her client, L.B.W., instructed her not to prepare such an order. [Footnote: L.B.W. denies that he refused to authorize the respondent to prepare and file the order which the court ordered the respondent to prepare. L.B.W. wished to have the respondent prepare the orders.] During that hearing, the court ordered the respondent to file the order from the September, 2009, hearing within one week. Again, the respondent failed to prepare the order.
" 20. On February 22, 2011, Donald E. Lambdin, the respondent's former law partner, wrote to the respondent asking her to prepare the journal entry and informing her that L.B.W. wished to have the journal entry filed. The respondent never prepared the order.
[298 Kan. 822] " 21. On February 23, 2011, the court held another hearing. During that hearing, the court granted judgment against L.B.W. in the amount of $450, for the expenses associated with the preparation of the order by opposing counsel.
" 22. On March 1, 2011, L.B.W. wrote to the respondent and informed her that he expected the respondent to reimburse L.B.W. for the $450 sanction. To date, the respondent has not reimbursed L.B.W. the $450 which L.B.W. paid to have the order prepared by opposing counsel.
" 23. In March, 2011, L.B.W. filed a complaint against the respondent. On March 28, 2011, the disciplinary administrator docketed the complaint and directed the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint filed by L.B.W. within 20 days. The respondent failed to provide a written response to the complaint filed by L.B.W. as directed by the disciplinary administrator.
" 24. On April 8, 2011, and on April 22, 2011, Ronald Badger, the attorney investigator appointed to investigate the complaint filed by L.B.W., wrote to the respondent directing her to provide a written response to L.B.W.'s written complaint. The respondent did not provide Mr. Badger with a written response to L.B.W.'s complaint.
" 25. In 1996, the respondent represented L.W. in an action in divorce from D.W. The court entered a journal entry of judgment and decree of divorce on July 24, 1997.
" 26. L.W. had accrued retirement benefits with Raytheon Aircraft Company. Under the journal entry of judgment and decree of divorce, D.W. was awarded one-half of L.W.'s retirement benefits. The court ordered the respondent to prepare the qualified domestic relations order (hereinafter ‘ QDRO’ ) to accomplish the division of the retirement account.
" 27. The respondent prepared a QDRO. On November 12, 1997, the respondent filed the QDRO. However, the QDRO did not meet the requirements of the plan administrator at the Raytheon Aircraft Company. On February 20, 1998, Pamela E. Bailey, staff counsel with Raytheon Aircraft Company wrote to the respondent and explained how the QDRO failed to meet the requirements and also provided the respondent with suggested language to cure the deficiencies in the QRDO. The respondent took no action to cure the deficiencies of the QDRO.
" 28. It appears that neither L.W. nor D.W. were aware that the respondent failed to prepare and file a proper QDRO.
" 29. On August 22, 2000, the respondent withdrew from her representation of L.W. without having cured the problems with the QDRO.
" 30. In May, 2012, D.W. attempted to claim his share of L.W.'s retirement benefits. At that time, D.W. learned from a representative of Raytheon Aircraft Company that the QDRO was deficient, that the respondent had been informed of the deficiencies, that the respondent failed to take any steps to correct the [298 Kan. 823] deficiencies, and that D.W. would be unable to access his portion of the retirement benefits until the QDRO was corrected.
" 31. D.W. repeatedly contacted the respondent by telephone and by electronic mail, requesting that the respondent correct the QDRO. In November, 2012, the respondent responded to D.W., stating that she would review the matter the following week and get back in touch with D.W. The respondent did not correct the QDRO and never contacted D.W.
" 32. As a result of the deficient QDRO prepared by the respondent, neither L.W. nor D.W. have received their respective shares of L.W.'s retirement benefits.
" 33. On December 13, 2012, D.W. filed a complaint against the respondent with the disciplinary administrator. On December 20, 2012, the disciplinary administrator docketed the complaint for investigation. At that time, the disciplinary administrator directed the respondent to provide a written response to D.W.'s complaint within 20 days. The ...