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In re Fahrenholtz

Supreme Court of Kansas

April 14, 2017

In the Matter of Terri L. Fahrenholtz, Respondent.

         Original proceeding in discipline. Disbarment.

          Stanton A. Hazlett, Disciplinary Administrator, argued the cause, and Michael R. Serra, Deputy Disciplinary Administrator, was on the formal complaint for the petitioner.

          Respondent did not appear.

          Per Curiam

         This is an uncontested original proceeding in discipline filed by the office of the Disciplinary Administrator against respondent, Terri L. Fahrenholtz, of Fargo, North Dakota, an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 2009.

         On March 22, 2016, the office of the Disciplinary Administrator filed a formal complaint against respondent alleging violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct (KRPC). Respondent did not file an answer. A hearing was held on the complaint before a panel of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys on May 24, 2016, at which the respondent did not appear in person or by counsel. The hearing panel determined that respondent violated KRPC 1.1 (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 287) (competence); 1.3 (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 290) (diligence); 1.4(a) (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 291) (communication); 1.15(a) (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 326) (safekeeping property); 1.16 (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 331) (termination of representation); 3.2 (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 341) (expediting litigation); and Kansas Supreme Court Rule 211(b) (2017 Kan. S.Ct. R. 251) (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 . . . .

"6. On May 7, 1999, the Minnesota Supreme Court admitted the respondent
to the practice of law in the State of Minnesota. On September 1, 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court suspended the respondent's license to practice law in Minnesota. The respondent's license to practice law in Minnesota remain[s] suspended.
"7. On May 2, 2006, the North Dakota Supreme Court admitted the respondent to the practice of law in the State of North Dakota. On May 7, 2015, the North Dakota Supreme Court entered an order disbarring the respondent from the practice of law in the State of North Dakota. The respondent remains disbarred in North Dakota.
"8. The Kansas Supreme Court admitted the respondent to the practice of law in the State of Kansas on September 29, 2009. On September 14, 2012, the Kansas Supreme Court entered an order suspending the respondent's license to practice law for failing to comply with the annual licensing requirements. The respondent's license to practice law in Kansas remains suspended.
"9. In June 2013, the respondent stopped practicing law. Thereafter, a number of respondent's clients filed complaints with the disciplinary counsel in North Dakota against the respondent. A disciplinary investigation in North Dakota ensued.
"10. On March 21, 2014, the respondent submitted to a deposition in the attorney disciplinary case pending in North Dakota.
"11. On June 26, 2014, disciplinary counsel in North Dakota filed a Petition for Discipline. On November 17, 2014, a hearing on the Petition was scheduled for January 13, 2015. Thereafter, on November 26, 2014, disciplinary counsel filed an Amended Petition for Discipline.
"12. On January 13, 2015, the disciplinary board of the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota held a hearing on the Amended Petition for Discipline filed against the respondent. After proper notice, the respondent failed to appear. Thereafter, on March 12, 2015, the disciplinary board of the Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommendation for discipline, regarding the respondent, as follows:
'Terri L. Fahrenholtz ("Fahrenholtz") failed to submit Answers to either the Petition for Discipline or Amended Petition for Discipline. As a result, the allegations contained within the Amended Petition for Discipline have been deemed admitted.
'Fahrenholtz did not appear for the Hearing on the Amended Petition for Discipline to be heard in mitigation.
'Gary Ficek was appointed as the professional trustee to review Fahrenholtz's files, to inventory the status of her cases, and to take actions to communicate with her clients regarding their files.
'Fahrenholtz[] did not dispute the appointment of Ficek to serve as the professional trustee for her practice.
'Fahrenholtz became licensed to practice law in North Dakota in 2006.
'Fahrenholtz started practicing as a solo-practitioner with Midwest Law LLC after the Brennan Law Group downsized.
'Fahrenholtz continued practicing with the assistance of one secretary. Fahrenholtz had not wanted to be a solo-practitioner and struggled to maintain her solo-practice. Eventually, Fahrenholtz had to let her secretary go.
'Fahrenholtz put her office files into a storage unit. Those files were reviewed by the professional trustee.
'Fahrenholtz's client files, including the amount of work done within the client files and organization of those files deteriorated as time went on. Further back in time, she had fee agreements with clients, and task lists within the client files, but closer to the time when she left the practice, Fahrenholtz's files became chaotic.
'Fahrenholtz was occasionally cooperative with the professional trustee. She participated when she needed access to her storage unit, but otherwise missed a few appointments with Ficek and was not always responsive to emails or telephone calls.
'Fahrenholtz represented [J.B.] in a personal injury case. [J.B.] was not able to get in touch with Fahrenholtz to determine whether the Summons and Complaint had been served in her case and to obtain a copy of it.
'Fahrenholtz represented [J.C.] in a Social Security Disability case. [J.C.] was unable to communicate with Fahrenholtz to determine the results of her hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
'Fahrenholtz represented [L.E.] [in] a Social Security Disability case. Fahrenholtz was supposed to have filed an appeal on [L.E.]'s behalf. [L.E.] was unable to discuss the status of her appeal with Fahrenholtz because she could not get in touch with her.
'Fahrenholtz was also supposed to have represented [L.E.] in a bankruptcy case, but there was nothing within [L.E.]'s file showing that a bankruptcy case had been started. [L.E.] paid Fahrenholtz a $200 retainer for the bankruptcy that was not deposited into [an] IOLTA account. Fahrenholtz did not refund the retainer to [L.E.].
'Fahrenholtz represented [H.G.] as a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. The professional trustee was unable to locate anything within the file to indicate that a lawsuit had been commenced. The statute of limitations had passed, so [H.G.]'s case was no longer viable.
'Fahrenholtz represented [T.H.] as a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. [T.H.] experienced difficulties in communicating with Fahrenholtz regarding what was happening in her case and was ultimately informed by Fahrenholtz that her case was dead.
'Fahrenholtz represented [H.H.] in a Social Security Disability case. Fahrenholtz was supposed to have filed an appeal on [H.H.]'s behalf. [H.H.] was unable to discuss the status of her appeal with Fahrenholtz because she could not get in touch with her.
'Fahrenholtz represented [M.K.] in a Social Security Disability case. [M.K.] had to start a new application for Social Security Disability which affected the disability benefits that he was entitled to claim.
'Fahrenholtz represented [R.L.] in a Social Security disability case. Fahrenholtz was supposed to have filed an appeal on [R.L.]'s behalf. [R.L.] was unable to contact ...

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