CHARLESTON – Failing to return a client’s retainer is at the center of three other disciplinary actions brought against Rodney Justice in both Kentucky and West Virginia during the previous decade.
Last month, the state Supreme Court ordered the suspension of Justice’s West Virginia license for 30 days. The Court’s order mirrored similar action taken by the Supreme Court of Kentucky a year ago stemming from a complaint he failed to return the unearned portion of a client’s retainer in an estate case.
The Kentucky Court agreed with the findings of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Board of Governors that when he was issued a 30-day suspension in 2006 he should’ve offered to refund $4,000 of the $9,500 Alta Galloway paid him in 2004 and 2005 to probate her parents’ estates. The estates were settled in 2007 after Galloway paid another attorney $1,400.
Records show the 2006 suspension stemmed from a complaint filed by James Burton and James Flaugher. They demanded Justice return the $1,500 they paid him to challenge the Carter County Board of Education’s sale of surplus property after their suit was dismissed when Justice failed to show for a hearing.
According the Kentucky Court’s Aug. 26, 2006, order suspending him, Justice did return the retainer, but only after Burton and Flaugher filed their ethics complaint.
Just over a year later on Sept. 20, 2007, the Kentucky Court would again suspend Justice. Only this time he was ordered not to practice law for 60 days.
The 2007 action stemmed from a complaint filed by Phillip Blevins who alleged Justice missed deadlines in filing appeals the Kentucky Unemployment Commission denying his claim. Like Burton and Flaugher, Blevins received the retainer he paid Justice, $200, only after lodging a complaint.
In both matters, the West Virginia Court took reciprocal action against Justice.
In addition to the two suspensions, Justice was admonished by the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board on July 20, 2002, in response to complaint lodged by Magdalene S. Varney of Milton. In her complaint filed on March 31, 2000, Varney alleged Justice failed to take diligent action in three separate legal matters for which she retained him – a civil suit related to her deceased mother’s estate, a property line dispute with a neighbor and updating her will.
According to the complaint, she paid Justice $2,500 for the lawsuit, and $1,500 for property line dispute. There was no fee agreement regarding the will.
After she become dissatisfied with Justice’s lack of attention to the legal matters including his failure to return her repeated phone calls, she informed him by letter dated Jan. 27, 2000, she was terminating his services, and wanted her money, and files back. When he failed to deliver either, she lodged her complaint.
On June 9, 2000, Justice refunded the $1,500 Varney paid him for the property dispute, and returned the file. In his response to her complaint, he offered no explanation as to the delay in filing the suit for her, but “was wrong in not immediately filing” it.
However, Justice remained defiant in returning the $2,500 Varney paid him for the estate lawsuit. In his response dated Sept. 4, 2001, Justice said the retainer she paid him was “non-refundable.”
Despite that, Justice could produce no documents stipulating the retainer was non-refundable or any time records backing up his claim he spent at least 15 hours on the case. In addition to referring the dispute to the state Bar’s Voluntary Fee Dispute Mediation Program, the Board warned Justice that any non-refundable retainer agreements must be put in written, and explained to the client.