CHARLESTON – An attorney who assisted the investigation into the alleged misdeeds of other attorneys now finds her own conduct under scrutiny by not only her former employer, but also a federal judge.
According to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, Charleston attorney Ellen Golden has four outstanding complaints against her. One complaint was filed in August, two in February and the last in March.
From August 1993 to August 1995, Golden worked in ODC under then Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Sherri Goodman.
Since details of ODC complaints are not made public until an investigation is complete, it is unclear if any of the complaints relate to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald G. Pearson's recent order removing Golden from all bankruptcy cases she has pending before the Court. Person's order came in the midst of at least five of Golden's clients alerting the Court to issues they had with Golden's lack of representation in their cases.
Prohibited from filing for a year
According to court records, the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee's office filed a motion on Feb. 27 to examine compensation Golden received in five Chapter 7 cases. Those cases were filed by Teresa Lynn Brown, of Peytona, Donna Marie Hinchman, of Clendenin, Edmond and Kandace Dotson, of Comfort, Allen and Nina Cooper, of Charleston and Paul and Michelle Sooy, of Dunbar.
The Trustee's motion, records show, "alleged a course of conduct in these cases that included delays in preparing and filing petitions, failure to respond to client communications, loss of client records and documents, failure to timely file the required documents, failure to appear at meetings of creditors and the use of outdated forms." Also, the Trustee reported that in the Cooper, Sooy and Dotson cases, Golden failed to appear at a Feb. 15 meeting of creditors.
Court records show, Golden did not file a reply to the Trustee's motion. During the hearing, in which she was represented by Charleston attorney Marshall Spradling and her clients pro se, Golden "did not deny or contest any of the allegations in the Motions."
As part of an agreement Golden reached with the Trustee prior to the hearing, Pearson on March 10 ordered Golden removed as counsel of record in all the open bankruptcy cases she helped file. Before closing out cases, Golden was to not only to turn over all the files to substitute counsel within 10 days of the order, but also refund each of the five Chapter 7 clients the $750 fee they paid Golden.
Half of that fee, Person ordered, was to be paid within 30 days.
Since she was now removed as counsel of record from all open bankruptcy cases, Pearson ordered Golden to turn over files to substitute counsel and refund any fees to clients whose cases she had not yet filed.
Finally, Person's order included a prohibition on Golden filing any more petitions in the southern district for a year. Provided she meets certain conditions, Pearson said he would consider allowing her to resume handling bankruptcy cases upon conclusion of the one-year prohibition.
"The permission to resume filing shall be conditioned upon Ms. Golden demonstrating to the Court and the U.S. Trustee the ability to provide competent, effective and timely representation of debtors, and to competently advance bankruptcy cases in this Court," Pearson ruled.
"Ms. Golden shall also complete continuing education courses in consumer bankruptcy and law office management, and she and any employees shall also complete the class on the most recent version of C[ase] M[anagment]/E[lectronic] C[ase] F[iles] offered by this Court."
Decision went 'overboard'
When contacted, Golden was at first reluctant to comment on Pearson's order. However, she said it went too far.
"I think the court went overboard," Golden said.
Also, Golden blames her telephone service provider for her inability to communicate with clients. After she closed her office on Quarrier Street in January, she asked that all calls be forwarded to her home in South Charleston where she now practices.
However, Golden says she did not receive any business calls until Feb. 27, the same day the Trustee's office filed its motion. When asked why suspicions weren't aroused when she didn't receive any calls after about a week, and why she didn't check on the status of her clients' cases with the bankruptcy clerk's office, Golden had no comment.
Bankruptcies, Golden said, are a small part of her practice, and despite her failure to handle those few she has many more clients who appreciate the work she does.
"I have clients who call me regularly, and I have clients outside of bankruptcy that I have an on-going relationship with," Golden said.
Besides, Golden said the five former clients mentioned in Pearson's order got a bargain.
"They've been more than made whole," Golden said. "They've gotten free bankruptcies."
U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Case Nos. 07-bk-21170 (Brown), 07-bk-21231 (Hinchman), 07-bk-21255 (Dotson), 08-bk-20015 (Cooper) and 08-bk-20017 (Sooy).