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In re Disciplinary Matter Involving Vance

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 6, 2018

In the Disciplinary Matter Involving JEFFREY H. VANCE, Attorney.

         ABA File Nos. 2016D140, 2017D180, ABA Membership No. 0111080

          Mark Woelber Assistant Bar Counsel.

          Jeffrey H. Vance, Respondent Attorney

          Michael A. Moberly Attorney for Respondent.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

          ORDER

         Bar Counsel for the Alaska Bar Association and attorney Jeffrey H. Vance entered into a stipulation for discipline by consent that would result in a six-month suspension from the practice of law and payment of $1, 000 in costs. The Bar Association's Disciplinary Board approved the stipulation and now recommends that we do so as well. The facts of Vance's misconduct are set forth in the stipulation, which is attached as an appendix.[1] We take these facts as true, [2] and we apply our independent judgment to the sanctions' appropriateness.[3]

         Based on the stipulated facts we agree with the legal analysis - set out in the stipulation - that suspension for six months is the appropriate sanction for Vance's misconduct. Accordingly:

         Jeffrey H. Vance is suspended from the practice of law for six months. In addition, Vance shall pay $1, 000 to the Alaska Bar Association within 60 days from entry of this order for disciplinary costs and fees incurred in this case.

         This order is effective 30 days after issuance pursuant to Alaska Bar Rule 28(c).

         Entered by direction of the court.

         BEFORE THE ALASKA BAR ASSOCIATION DISCIPLINARY BOARD

         STIPULATION FOR DISCIPLINE BY CONSENT

         JURISDICTION; AUTHORITY TO CONSENT TO DISCIPLINE

         1. Jeffrey H. Vance is a member of the Alaska Bar Association, admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court, and subject to the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct (ARPCs) and the Alaska Bar Rules, Part II (Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement).

         2. The Disciplinary Board and the Supreme Court review this stipulation, and Vance is authorized to consent to discipline, under Alaska Bar Rule 22(h).

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         3. A driver (Client) was in a car accident in Alaska in October 2014. He hired Law Firm to represent him in a personal injury claim against the other driver, who was insured by Insurance Company.

         4. In January 2015, Insurance Company offered to settle Client's claim for $16, 372. While the offer was pending, Client died of causes unrelated to the car accident.

         5. Vance came to work at Law Firm in 2016 and inherited Client's file. In May 2016 he asked the superior court to appoint Client's elderly mother as his personal representative so she could administer the car accident claim as part of her son's estate. The court issued the order on September 2, 2016, and a few days later the mother accepted Insurance Company's standing offer to settle.

         6. On September 15, 2016, Insurance Company sent Vance a release of Client's claim for the mother to sign. He promptly mailed the release to her at her home in New Jersey, and in late September she signed it before a notary public and mailed it back to him.

         7. The statute of limitations on Client's claim would expire on October 8, 2016 (a Saturday). By Friday, October 7, the release had not arrived at Vance's office. He contacted the claims officer handling the case for Insurance Company and explained that the release was still in transit from New Jersey. To avoid forcing Vance to file a lawsuit that day, and because the statute of limitations expired on a Saturday (when the court was closed), the claims officer agreed that Insurance Company would accept the release if they received it the following business day, Monday, October 10; they would not agree to extend the time further.

         8. On Monday the release still had not arrived at Vance's office. He fabricated a substitute release by copying the mother's signature from another document, obtained a notary seal from the desk of a colleague who was on vacation, and used the seal to notarize the false release. He delivered the release to Insurance Company on the morning of October 10 and in return received the settlement check.

         9. That afternoon Insurance Company's claims officer examined the release and noticed that the notarization stamp was for a notary public in Alaska not New Jersey, yet the mother's signature and the notary's signature appeared to be signed with the same ink. The claims officer phoned Vance and questioned the authenticity of the release. Vance admitted his role. The claims officer rejected the release and Insurance Company stopped payment on its settlement check.

         10. Vance immediately informed the senior partner of his law firm about his conduct. Later that afternoon Vance filed a timely lawsuit to preserve ...


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