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In re Disciplinary Involving Reger

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 6, 2018

In The Disciplinary Matter Involving LAWRENCE F. REGER, Respondent.

         ABA File Nos. 2014D183 and 2014D223

          Louise R. Driscoll Assistant Bar Counsel

          Lawrence F. Reger Respondent

          Jason A. Weiner Attorney for Respondent

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

          ORDER

         Bar Counsel for the Alaska Bar Association and attorney Lawrence F. Reger entered into a stipulation for discipline by consent that would result in a six-month suspension from the practice of law, nine hours of specific continuing legal education as a condition prior to seeking reinstatement to 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 Reger'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 the agreed upon sanctions are appropriate for Reger's misconduct. Accordingly, Lawrence F. Reger is suspended from the practice of law for six months, required to complete six hours of CLE regarding law office management and three hours of legal ethics as a condition prior to seeking reinstatement to the practice of law, and 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

         In The Disciplinary Matter Involving LAWRENCE F. REGER, Respondent.

         ABA Membership No. 9811081

         Pursuant to Alaska Bar Rule 22(h), Lawrence F. Reger, Respondent, by and through counsel, Jason A. Weiner, and Louise Driscoll, Assistant Bar Counsel, stipulate as follows:

         JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         1. Reger was at all times pertinent, an attorney at law admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Alaska, and a member of the Alaska Bar Association. At all times relevant, Reger practiced law in Fairbanks, Fourth Judicial District, Alaska. On April 22, 2016, the Alaska Supreme Court suspended Reger for non-payment of 2016 Bar dues. Reger remains on administrative suspension.

         2. Reger is, and was at all times pertinent, subject to the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct ("ARPCs") and to Part II, Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, Alaska Bar Rules, giving the Alaska Supreme Court and the Disciplinary Board of the Bar jurisdiction to resolve this matter.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         3. In late 2014 Bar Counsel opened two disciplinary grievances against Reger for investigation. The following facts will describe Reger's law practice and his law practice management which led to the professional misconduct depicted in the two grievances.

         4. Reger was admitted to the practice of law in Alaska in November 1998. In 2006 or 2007, while sharing offices in Fairbanks with several other attorneys, he decided to hire a legal assistant. After interviewing several persons, he hired KW because she communicated well and had excellent organizational skills.

         5. Initially KW was assigned simple tasks, including making copies and answering telephone calls. She arrived early and stayed late at the office. She was friendly with co-workers, but task-oriented. Over time KW revealed an eye for detail and a willingness to seek clarification if she was uncertain about a task. Reger was most impressed that KW would report when she made a mistake which allowed corrective measures to be promptly taken.

         6. In response to her proven abilities, Reger assigned her more complex tasks, such as drafting simple letters, calendaring deadlines, drafting Civil Rule 90.3 child support guidelines, drafting Civil Rule 26.1 disclosures in domestic relations cases, and preparing trial exhibits.

         7. KW became a key part of Reger's successful practice which he likened to a well-oiled machine. KW made copies, prepared routine non-substantive motions such as requests for extension of time, and was the primary point of contact for clients on all non-substantive matters. Reger dealt with substantive matters, drafted motions, and reviewed and formulated discovery. Reger held KW in high regard because she was conscientious and hard-working and she demonstrated a caring nature toward the firm's clients.

         8. After several years, other lawyers in the office suite relocated. The space was too expensive for Reger to maintain so he entered a different office-sharing arrangement with different attorneys.

         9. Around this time KW left the state with her military spouse who had been transferred to a new duty station. The attorneys in the new office suite had difficulty in finding and maintaining competent staff. One day KW called to say her husband was retiring from the military and the family was returning to Alaska. Reger offered her a job on the spot and she accepted.

         10. KW returned to work in late 2011. She adjusted quickly to working with three different attorneys with quite different practices. After one of the attorneys relocated, KW continued to work with Reger and the other lawyer in the office suite.

         11. During the summer of 2013, the other attorney's behavior began to change. He became short-tempered and often didn't show up at the office. KW reported the attorney's clients were becoming increasingly upset. Reger and KW began to discuss moving to another location due to the stressful situation.

         12. In the late summer of 2013, Reger tried to make a phone call and discovered his office line was disconnected. He learned the telephone bills had gone unpaid.

         13. Under the office-sharing arrangement, Reger paid one-half of the total office overhead, including the telephone bill, to the other attorney who appeared not to be applying those funds to the service providers. From his perspective Reger was current with his bills, but he paid $3, 200 to the phone company that day to have his phone service restored.

         14. Learning about the overdue telephone bill prompted a call to the landlord and Reger learned that office rent had not been paid in several months. Reger was subletting from the other attorney, and was not a party to the primary rental agreement, but he brought his portion of the rent current to avoid immediate eviction.

         15. Reger realized that bringing the bills current did not solve the problem. He and KW decided to move to a new office despite the time and expense associated with a move.

         16. Most available office space in downtown Fairbanks was for more space than he needed and more money than he could afford. A former client learned that Reger was looking for office space and called with a proposal. The client's wife owned a duplex with a mother-in-law apartment that had been used for an office before. It was small but conveniently located so it met Reger's needs.

         17. Reger had a significant cash-flow problem because he had to bring a number of bills current on little notice. To help fund the office move, KW offered to loan Reger $ 16, 000 from a personal injury settlement he had recently obtained on her behalf.

         18. Reger and KW discussed the proposal at length. Reger accepted KW s offer and promised to share future profits 50/50 with her, first as a loan repayment and then as a bonus.

         19. Reger and KW moved into their new office location in early October 2013. Problems immediately began. The former client who had offered the rental space was arrested and charged with several significant federal firearms-related felonies. The client's wife, the landlady, was also under investigation by federal authorities, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), and was under a great deal of stress.

         20. The telephone company refused to transfer his office phone, fax lines and e-mail accounts because they were in the name of the other attorney who had fallen in arrears again. Thus, Reger had to switch his phone, fax and internet provider to another service provider. KW said she provided clients with new contact information, but it was difficult for former clients who wanted representation in new matters and potential new clients to locate his office. Mail delivery was erratic, but gradually improved.

         21. In the spring of 2014, KW started acting strangely. She appeared anxious and depressed and she alluded to family problems. Then KW confided she had been diagnosed with cancer. She produced a printout of a medical test showing masses in her liver and a declaration that the masses were malignant. KW asked for flexibility to be able to attend medical appointments and to personal matters as they arose. Reger assured KW he would happily accommodate her.

         22. Reger was devastated by the news that KW had cancer. KW's husband was a close personal friend. He had watched their child grow from pre-school to high school. KW's medical condition made him question the future of his practice because he could not envision working with someone other than KW who got along so well with his clients and who was so skilled and helpful in his practice.

         23. Over the next few months KW's condition became increasingly uncertain. New tests proved the cancer diagnosis wrong, but severe symptoms with KW's digestive system continued. KW seemed tired, anxious and depressed, but she told Reger that her work kept her sane and she refused to consider a leave of absence or retirement. Work started to pick up, but KW denied that she was overwhelmed at the office. She seemed agitated when Reger asked if she needed help so he backed off.

         24. In mid-2014 BATF stopped by Reger's office to ask about the landlady. KW reported that law enforcement appeared to be staking out the building. One day a local BATF agent was parked in plain view across the street from the office and several state troopers had the building under surveillance.

         25. A small, but distinct, part of Reger's client base were persons accused of controlled-substance-related offenses. Having the building in which their attorney's office was located under the surveillance of state and federal law enforcement was untenable.

         26. Reger had a series of discussions with KW about the future of the practice. He proposed that they slowly close down his practice and leave the legal profession together. He could not imagine practicing with anyone other than KW assisting him.

         27. Reger had several cases set for trial and he resolved to see those cases through to the end. He planned to take no new matter that would not wrap up before the end of 2015.

         28. Cash flow became a significant problem because they were referring new business to other lawyers and some current clients were not paying their bills. He wanted to leave his current office space before the law enforcement's intermittent surveillance caused a problem for a client. Reger and KW decided to practice from their respective residences and meet face-to-face with clients elsewhere.

         29. After Reger and KW moved, she told him that she had arranged for mail forwarding from their former office address to a new post office box. She arranged for phone and fax lines to go to her residence. They both had e-mail access from their homes.

         30. The arrangement seemed ideal for KW who could stay at home with her family. According to Reger, all KW had to do was answer phones, get the bills out, keep the filing current, check the mail, check the fax machine at her home office, check the pick-up bin at the courthouse, make copies and occasionally draft a child support guidelines affidavit or set of initial disclosures. Reger would work on cases, return calls on substantive matters to clients, and work just as he had always done.

         31. The arrangement appeared to be going well in the initial weeks. Then in late October he learned that clients were having trouble reaching him. In late October a lawyer called him about a domestic relations matter in which Reger had missed a hearing. In November he learned that KW was not responding to e-mail relating to a different client matter.

         32. Reger met with KW in mid-November to discuss the issue of e-mails not being answered or forwarded to him and phone calls not being returned. KW alleged she had been having e-mail problems but she was returning all messages she had received. When Reger asked if she was overwhelmed and needed to focus on her personal life, KW started to sob and said she still wanted to work. He proposed a compromise wherein he took care of filing, getting the mail, checking the pickup bin at the courthouse, drafting all letters and ...


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