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In re Hawkins

Supreme Court of Kansas

December 6, 2019

In the Matter of Joan M. Hawkins, Respondent.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN DISCIPLINE

          Stanton A. Hazlett, Disciplinary Administrator, argued the cause, and Kimberly L. Knoll, Deputy Disciplinary Administrator, was with him on the formal complaint for the petitioner.

          No appearance by respondent.

          PER CURIAM:

         This is an uncontested original proceeding in discipline filed by the office of the Disciplinary Administrator against respondent, Joan M. Hawkins, of Lawrence, an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Kansas in 1999.

         On August 30, 2018, 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 October 2, 2018, at which the respondent did not appear in person or by counsel. The hearing panel determined that respondent violated KRPC 1.3 (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 298) (diligence); 1.15(a) and (b) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 334) (safekeeping property); 1.16(d) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 339) (termination of representation); 8.1(b) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 384) (failure to respond to disciplinary authority); Kansas Supreme Court Rule 207(b) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 252) (failure to cooperate in disciplinary investigation); Kansas Supreme Court Rule 211(b) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 257) (failure to file answer in disciplinary proceeding); and Kansas Supreme Court Rule 218(a) (2019 Kan. S.Ct. R. 268) (failure to file motion to withdraw upon suspension).

         Upon conclusion of the hearing, the panel made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, together with its recommendation to this court:

"6. On September 24, 1999, the Kansas Supreme Court admitted the respondent to the practice of law in the State of Kansas. On April 15, 2016, the Court suspended the respondent's license to practice law for a period of 18 months for having violated KRPC 1.16 (termination of representation), KRPC 3.2 (expedite litigation), KRPC 3.3 (candor to the tribunal), KRPC 3.4 (fairness to opposing party), KRPC 8.1 (cooperation), and KRPC 8.4 (professional misconduct). The respondent has not sought reinstatement of her license to practice law.
"DA12561
"7. L.M. entered pleas of guilty to two serious felonies. Thereafter, the court sentenced L.M. to life imprisonment. Later, L.M.'s family retained an attorney to file a motion to set aside the guilty pleas.
"8. Subsequently, the respondent entered her appearance on behalf of L.M. and filed an amended motion to withdraw plea. The court scheduled a three-day hearing on the respondent's motion for August 31, 2015, through September 2, 2015. The respondent represented L.M. at the hearing. Following the hearing, the court set a briefing schedule. The court directed the respondent to file a brief on behalf of L.M. not later than 28 days after the completion of the transcript. The district court provided the state with 28 days to respond and the respondent 14 days to reply.
"9. On October 19, 2015, the court reporter certified the completion of the transcript and a copy of the transcript was delivered to the respondent, making the respondent's brief due on November 16, 2015. The respondent failed to file a brief on behalf of L.M. as ordered by the court. Additionally, the respondent failed to take any additional action on behalf of L.M.
"10. On April 15, 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended the respondent's license to practice law for a period of 18 months. In its opinion, the Court ordered the respondent to comply with Kan. S.Ct. R. 218. Kan. S.Ct. R. 218 requires suspended attorneys to notify clients, opposing counsel, and courts of record, within 14 days, that the attorney's license has been suspended. Kan. S.Ct. R. 218 also requires suspended attorneys to move to withdraw from all pending cases.
"11. In a letter dated April 29, 2016, the respondent notified L.M. that the respondent's license to practice law had been suspended. The respondent, however, did not notify J.K., L.M.'s sister who held a power of attorney for L.M. The respondent failed to file a motion to withdraw from L.M.'s case.
"12. Because the respondent failed to file a brief on behalf of L.M. And complete the representation, J.K. filed a complaint with the disciplinary administrator's office. Members of the disciplinary administrator's office directed the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint. The respondent . . . did not provide a written response to the complaint filed by J.K.
"13. Terry Morgan, special investigator with the disciplinary administrator's office was assigned to investigate the complaint. Mr. Morgan also directed the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint. The respondent failed to do so.
"14. During the investigation, the respondent left a voicemail message for Mr. Morgan, indicating that an attorney from Joseph & Hollander would be representing her. When Mr. Morgan contacted Joseph & Hollander, Mr. Morgan learned that the firm would not be representing the respondent.
"15. The respondent failed to cooperate in the investigation.
"DA12577
"16. The respondent represented C.U. in a divorce proceeding against R.U. The district court entered the decree of divorce on May 15, 2014. A term of the property settlement agreement required R.U. to pay C.U. $32, 172.50, to equalize the joint assets. In addition, the parties jointly held Horizon stock. Because the stock remained unsold at the time the district court entered the decree, the district court specifically retained jurisdiction over issues relating to the stock.
"17. On December 3, 2014, the district court entered a nunc pro tunc Journal Entry, correcting a mathematical error which changed the equalization amount R.U. was to pay C.U. to $32, 308.00. That same day, R.U. paid C.U. the required equalization amount.
"18. Even though R.U. had already paid the equalization amount, on December 23, 2014, the respondent filed a motion to enforce the terms of the property settlement agreement, seeking to force R.U. to pay C.U. the equalization amount.
"19. In January, 2015, counsel for Horizon notified the parties that Horizon wished to offer stock redemption to R.U. and C.U. Counsel for Horizon requested that C.U. sign a disclaimer of the interest so that the stock could be redeemed. The respondent and C.U. refused to sign the disclaimer because the parties disagreed as to who should bear the tax liability on the redemption.
"20. Without accomplishing the stock redemption, the respondent stopped communicating with counsel for Horizon.
"21. In August, 2015, R.U. listed her real property for sale. A month later, on September 17, 2015, the respondent filed a lien against R.U.'s real property for the equalization payment for an 'uncertain' amount, even though the equalization amount was certain and had already been paid. The respondent failed to notify R.U. or her counsel of the lien.
"22. Without knowing of the lien, R.U. entered a contract for the sale of her real property and scheduled closing for April 7, 2016. One week prior to closing, the title company discovered the lien the respondent filed against R.U.'s real property. The improper lien filed by the respondent frustrated the progress of the sale of the real property.
"23. On April 6, 2016, the respondent informed the title company that the amount of the lien was 'roughly $4, 700.' The title company agreed to hold $4, 700 in escrow. However, R.U. had already paid the entire amount owed to C.U.
"24. On April 15, 2016, the same day the Supreme Court issued its opinion suspending the respondent's license to practice law, the respondent sent an email message to counsel for R.U. requesting to settle the Horizon stock matter prior to the hearing, scheduled for June 29, 2016.
"25. On May 26, 2016, R.U. filed a complaint against the respondent. The disciplinary administrator directed the respondent to provide a written response to the complaint. The respondent failed to do so. The respondent failed [to] cooperate in the investigation of R.U.'s complaint.
"DA12597
"26. At the time the Supreme Court suspended the respondent's license to practice law in April 2015, the respondent's attorney trust account balance was $37, 846.66. After her license to practice law was suspended, the respondent made the following deposits into her attorney trust account:

April 18, 2016

$65.00

April 19, 2016

$3, 497.00

April 21, 2016

$500.00

June 1, 2016

$.20

June1, 2016

$4, 918.08

June 21, 2016

$1, 532.76

September 1, 2016

$75.00

"27. The respondent used her attorney trust account for purposes in addition to holding client monies.
a. On April 11, 2016, four days before the Kansas Supreme Court suspended the respondent's license to practice law, the respondent transferred funds from her retirement account in the amount of $18, 400 from American Funds to her attorney trust account. That same day, the respondent wired $17, 100 to the firm representing the respondent in the original disciplinary action, Joseph & Hollander and she returned $1, 300 to the American Funds retirement account.
b. On April 13, 2016, April 20, 2016, and September 27, 2016, the respondent paid a credit card bill directly from her attorney trust account.
"28. The respondent's attorney trust account records indicate that she returned unearned fees to her clients beginning April 19, 2016, and continuing ...

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