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In re Knox

Supreme Court of Kansas

January 11, 2019

In the Matter of John M. Knox, Respondent.

          Original proceeding in discipline.

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

          No appearance by respondent.

          PER CURIAM:

         This is an original proceeding in discipline filed by the office of the Disciplinary Administrator against the respondent, John M. Knox, of Lenexa, an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 1994.

         On October 4, 2017, the office of the Disciplinary Administrator filed a formal complaint against the respondent alleging violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct (KRPC). The respondent failed to file an answer. A hearing was held on the complaint before a panel of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys on March 22, 2018, at which the respondent did not appear. The hearing panel determined that respondent violated KRPC 1.1 (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 289) (competence); 1.3 (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 292) (diligence); 1.4(a) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 293) (communication); 1.5(d) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 294) (fees); 3.2 (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 343) (expediting litigation); 4.1(a) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 355) (truthfulness in statements to others); 8.4(c) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 381) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); 8.4(d) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 381) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); 8.4(g) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 381) (engaging in conduct adversely reflecting on lawyer's fitness to practice law); and Kansas Supreme Court Rule 207(b) (2018 Kan. S.Ct. R. 246) (failure to cooperate in disciplinary action).

         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

. . . .
"9. On June 19, 2013, W.D. was involved in a two-car automobile accident in Baldwin City, Kansas. The driver of the other car failed to stop at a stop sign and collided with W.D.'s car. Both drivers were insured. W.D. suffered injuries to his hip, back, and shoulder. In the fall of 2013, W.D. underwent laminectomy surgery (a surgical operation to remove the back of vertebrae to relieve pressure on nerves). An MRI had shown that five of W.D.'s vertebrae were pinching against his spinal cord.
"10. W.D. was advised by his insurance company to seek legal counsel. W.D. and his wife, K.D., met with and hired the respondent in June or July of 2013, shortly after the accident.
"11. The respondent proposed a contingent fee arrangement in which the respondent would receive 30% of any recovery. W.D. and K.D. agreed to the fee proposed by the respondent. The respondent failed to reduce the agreement to writing.
"12. W.D. and K.D. again met with respondent at the respondent's office in Lawrence. At that time, W.D. provided the respondent with his medical records. The respondent advised W.D. and K.D. that he was submitting information to an insurance company.
"13. Throughout the representation, W.D. and K.D. had a difficult time communicating with respondent.
"14. In the spring of 2014, W.D. spoke with the respondent by telephone. The respondent explained that he had not maintained communication because the respondent's wife had been ill. The respondent, however, assured W.D. that everything was fine with the case.
"15. Thereafter, W.D. and K.D. were unable to reach the respondent. They were aware that a deadline existed in the case and they increased their attempts to contact the respondent. W.D. and K.D. believed that the respondent had filed a civil case on behalf of W.D. by this time.
"16. The respondent failed to inform W.D. that he moved his office to another location. On his own, W.D. learned that the respondent had moved his office to 810 Pennsylvania, Lawrence.
"W.D. or K.D. called the respondent weekly, but were not able to make contact with him. At some point, the respondent's voicemail box was full.
"During the fall of 2015, they left notes on the door of the respondent's office because when they would attempt to locate him in his office, he was never present. They contacted the manager of the building where the respondent's office was located, but they were not able to obtain information on how to get in touch with the respondent.
"17. In February 2016, W.D. and K.D. sent a letter to the respondent via certified mail, return receipt requested. The letter eventually came back as unclaimed because it was not picked up by the respondent.
"18. On March 11, 2016, W.D. filed a complaint with the disciplinary administrator's office. Leslie Miller of the Douglas County Ethics and Grievance Committee was assigned to investigate the complaint.
"19. On March 14, 2016, the disciplinary administrator notified the respondent by letter that W.D.'s complaint had been docketed for investigation. The disciplinary administrator directed the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint within 20 days. The respondent did not provide a written response to the complaint.
"20. Ms. Miller sent letters to the respondent on March 21, 2016, May 11, 2016, and June 6, 2016, directing the respondent to provide a written response to W.D.'s complaint. The respondent did not provide a written response to the complaint filed by W.D.
"21. In June 2016, Special Investigator William Delaney contacted the respondent at his home. The respondent claimed that he had not received the complaint, but that he would respond. While the respondent provided Mr. Delaney with W.D.'s client file, respondent never provided a response to the complaint.
"22. During the investigation, Ms. Miller checked the Douglas County court records and determined that two civil cases had been filed by the respondent on behalf of W.D., cases numbered 2015-V-000457 and 2015-V-000458. Both cases were filed on December 21, 2015. The petitions in the two cases were identical and filing fees had been paid by the respondent in both cases. Both cases were filed outside of the two-year statute of limitations.
"23. In 2015-V-000457, after counsel for the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the statute of limitations, on May 11, 2016, the court dismissed the case with prejudice. In 2015-V-000458, the court dismissed the case for lack of prosecution on December 22, 2016.
"24. Robert Luder represented the defendant in the personal injury cases. Mr. Luder advised Ms. Miller that the respondent told him that he had filed the case within the statute of limitations but that there was a glitch in the clerk's office with respect to the filing.
"25. On May 24, 2016, Ms. Miller met with W.D. and K.D. During that meeting, W.D. and K.D. asked Ms. Miller about the status of the case. Ms. Miller told W.D. and K.D. that the case had been filed approximately six months too late and that it had been dismissed on May 11, 2016. According to Ms. Miller, W.D. and K.D. were shocked and upset that the case had been dismissed.
"26. During the time that the respondent represented W.D., the respondent did not have malpractice insurance.
"On December 23, 2016, the Supreme Court issued an opinion suspending the respondent's license to practice law for a period of one year. In re Knox, 305 Kan. 628, 385 P.3d 500 (2016). The respondent's license remains suspended.
"27. On October 4, 2017, Mr. Hazlett filed the formal complaint in this case. That same day, the formal complaint and the notice of hearing were sent to the respondent at his last registration address by certified mail. Additionally, a copy of the formal complaint and notice of hearing were sent to the respondent at his last registration address and his home address by regular mail. The respondent failed to file an answer to the formal complaint. Later, on November 30, 2017, William C. Delaney, Special Investigator with the disciplinary administrator's office served a copy of the formal complaint and notice of hearing on the ...

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