ODC clears Evans in N.J. man's complaint, but not without warning
CHARLESTON – Debra Santer is not the only one with a beef against Cynthia Evans for failure to render legal services. So is a New Jersey man who alleges Evans' inaction led to a loss of his son's baseball scholarship and reputation at the University of Charleston. According to her file with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar Association, Cynthia Evans has three prior complaints lodged against her. Similar to one filed by Santer in 2002, Ivan E. Torres of Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey alleges Evans failed to properly render legal services in spite of being paid a retainer. In his complaint filed June 30, 2005, Torres says he was referred to Evans in March "to investigate the possibility of filing suit against the University of Charleston and two other individuals." Though details are not immediately clear, Torres says two female UC students, told lies on his son, Ivan Jr., who was then a member of the baseball team. Prior to Ivan Jr. being cleared of any wrongdoing in both an on-campus and court hearing, Torres consulted with Evans. In a telephone conversation they had on Feb. 28, 2005, Evans told Torres she would need to "review any documents he had" as well as "investigate whether the University of Charleston had violated and school policies." In their conversation, Evans informed Torres she normally doesn't offer free consultations, and her hourly rate was $225. However, she was willing to take the case for a discounted rate of $200. According the complaint, Torres submitted the documents he had available and a check for $200. In addition to reviewing Torres' documents, Evans "also searched the Internet in an attempt to obtain the University of Charleston's policies and procedures, but could not locate a complete version ..." Likewise, Evans wrote a letter to UC on March 23, 2005, requesting a copy of the student handbook. In addition to the handbook, Evans requested any regulations pertaining to the disciplinary action taken against Ivan Jr. According to the complaint, UC did not respond to Evans' request. In his complaint, Torres maintains he e-mailed Evans 12 times between Feb. 28 and June 19, 2005, regarding the status of the case. Evans, Torres' avers, replied two times with the "last on 5-5 stating she requested a book from school." Though a date is not specified, Evans says after dictating a letter, she directed her paralegal to " 'inform him [Torres] that the one hour of time he had paid for was already used and for [her] to continue to work on his claim [she] would require additional money.' " Despite in the course of both a telephone and personal conversation Evans' paralegal had with Torres stressing the need for additional money to pursue the investigation, he continued to express displeasure with Evans, and asked for his $200 back. On Aug. 28, 2006, ODC closed out Torres' complaint. Much like he did with Santer's complaint three years earlier, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Lawrence J. Lewis determined "there is insufficient evidence to establish that Respondent [Evans] violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct" and that the issues between them "constitutes a fee dispute." However, unlike in Santer's complaint, Lewis referred Torres to Kathy Henning with the Bar's Voluntary Fee Dispute Resolution Program "to address the fee aspects of this matter." Also, Lewis cautioned Evans about not drafting a retainer agreement with Torres. "It is ill-advised to represent a client without clarifying the scope of representation, as that engenders uncertainty as to the objectives of representation and often results in confusion and dissatisfaction," Lewis said. "Respondent is reminded to clarify the scope of representation from the outset of the attorney-client relationship and to use written retainer agreements to ensure that such confusion does not occur in the future." Currently, ODC is investigating a complaint filed against Evans.