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In re Disciplinary Matter Involving Brion

Supreme Court of Alaska

July 17, 2009

In the DISCIPLINARY MATTER INVOLVING Jody BRION, Respondent.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Louise R. Driscoll, Assistant Bar Counsel, Stephen J. Van Goor, Bar Counsel, Anchorage, for Alaska Bar Association.

Jody Brion, pro se, Anchorage.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Disciplinary Board of the Alaska Bar Association recommends suspending Jody Brion from the practice of law for three years, with two of those years stayed. Brion requests a shorter suspension. We agree with the Disciplinary Board and order the recommended suspension and related conditions for reinstatement.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In April 2007 Bar Counsel for the Alaska Bar Association petitioned for a formal hearing on charges that, in his representation of certain clients, Brion had violated the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) relating to: (1) reasonable diligence and promptness; (2) failure to communicate; (3) failure to communicate properly the basis of his fees and to provide accounts of hours billed; (4) failure to properly care for client property; (5) failure to respond to the Bar Association regarding client grievances; and (6) a general failure to account properly for client funds and resulting conflicts of interest. The petition contained allegations specific to six different clients as well as allegations relating to general record keeping and mismanagement of funds.

Referring to former client J.M. of Louisiana, Bar Counsel alleged that Brion missed filing deadlines, did not timely forward his client's spousal support payment, and failed to file an alimony motion that his client had requested.

Referring to former client M.S. of Dutch Harbor, Bar Counsel alleged that Brion: (1) repeatedly failed to return client e-mails, phone calls, and faxes; (2) typically requested documents " just prior to court [discovery] deadlines" ; (3) failed to meet court deadlines; and (4) submitted conflicting reports of hours worked.

Referring to former client M.D. of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, Bar Counsel alleged that Brion missed important filings and did not respond to M.D.'s communications.

Referring to former client J.C. of Georgia, Bar Counsel alleged that Brion: (1) never provided J.C. with a fee schedule or written fee agreement; (2) failed to respond to J.C.'s requests for information about his case; (3) repeatedly promised to file certain motions but failed to do so; and (4) refunded the unused portion of the retainer by a check that was returned due to insufficient funds.

Referring to former client K.A., Bar Counsel alleged that Brion: (1) failed to file essential papers; (2) ignored court deadlines; and (3) did not return K.A.'s phone calls (although he billed her for the time spent listening to her messages).

Referring to former client T.H. of Virginia, Bar Counsel alleged that Brion: (1) never returned T.H.'s phone calls; (2) neglected to have papers served on T.H.'s wife; (3) mismanaged T.H.'s retainer by not timely returning the unused portion and failing to provide an invoice; and (4) failed to respond to a formal bar complaint.

Bar Counsel also charged Brion with violating Rules governing the safekeeping of client property and conflicts of interest. In August 2006 Bar Counsel received notice that Brion had overdrawn a trust account. During the subsequent investigation, Brion misrepresented to Bar Counsel where he had deposited certain checks and misrepresented the source of the money he deposited in the trust account to correct the overdraft.

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In October 2007 an Area Hearing Committee (the Panel) convened to consider the charges against Brion, and the Panel issued a report in November. In the cases of J.M., J.C., K.A., and T.H., the Panel found by clear and convincing evidence that Brion violated Rule 1.3 (diligence) and Rule 1.4 (communication). Similarly the Panel found Brion violated Rule 1.5(b) (written fee agreement) in J.C.'s case and Rule 15(a)(4) (responding to formal bar complaint) in T.H.'s case. The Panel also found that Brion violated Rule 1.15 (handling client funds) in the trust account matter. The Panel did not make findings regarding charges relating to M.S. or M.D.

The Panel also addressed mitigating and aggravating circumstances. In mitigation the Panel found that Brion had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that he: (1) had no prior disciplinary record; (2) lacked a selfish or dishonest motive; (3) cooperated with and provided full and free disclosure to the Bar Association; and (4) showed remorse. In aggravation the Panel found that: (1) Brion had committed multiple offenses; (2) the clients Brion victimized were especially vulnerable to neglect and lack of diligence because most of them resided out-of-state; and (3) Brion had substantial legal experience.

The Panel's sanction recommendation was for three years of suspension (staying two years of that suspension), along with requirements that Brion participate in continuing legal education classes and, upon returning to practice, that he hire an office manager and find a mentor. The matter then was presented to the Disciplinary Board of the Bar Association.

In February 2008 the Disciplinary Board held a hearing and later issued findings, conclusions, and a recommendation. The Board adopted the Panel's report and recommended sanctions but added two conditions to Brion's reinstatement after the period of suspension-requiring retention of a certified public accountant for his office financial matters and specifying twelve hours of relevant continuing legal education classes.

The Disciplinary Board's decision is ...


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