CHARLESTON – A reprimand given to a Wood County attorney for failing to communicate with his clients or replying to complaints lodged against him is not the first time he was warned about such behavior.
In fact, in one case, an investigative panel found the attorney violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, but declined to bring a statement of charges against. Records show, this came prior to his father's bid for Supreme Court in 2000.
In addition to the complaints of three clients combined to bring a statement of charges against him in June, Joseph P. Albright Jr. has fourteen other complaints lodged against him, according to records at the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar Association.
In January, the state Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, that Albright be publicly reprimanded –- and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding –- in the six-count statement of charges brought against him in the cases of Rita A. Ramsey, Randall Hamrick and Danny E. and Connie S. VanDale.
Records show that Albright, with the Parkersburg law firm of Bradley and Albright, failed to adequately communicate with all three clients in their respective cases, and only responded to the complaints lodged against him by Ramsey and Hamrick when subpoenaed by the ODC. In addition to the reprimand and paying the costs of the disciplinary proceedings, Albright was ordered to complete the settlement of the estate in Ramsey's case.
Because of their relationship, Justice Joseph P. Albright Sr. was disqualified from hearing the case.
At least four other warnings
The complaints lodged by Ramsey, Hamrick and the VanDales are the most recent in a string filed against Joseph Albright Jr. dating back to 1993, five years after he was admitted to the Bar.
Though all other complaints against him were dismissed for one reason or another, in at least four cases, the ODC "warned" or "cautioned" Albright about his behavior, and threatened possible sanctions against him if he didn't change it.
In February 2000, the ODC heard the complaint of Nina Brock of Burning Springs. In her complaint, Brock alleged that Albright's failure to handle the child custody case of her daughter Mary Ann Dooley, including missing a scheduled hearing, resulted in a ruling adverse to Dooley.
Though Albright acknowledged he missed the hearing, he said it "would not have changed the outcome because she had not completed the terms of [an] improvement period" the court granted her prior to the hearing. This, Albright said, was partially due to Dooley moving to several states, and making contact with her difficult.
The ODC agreed and dismissed the case on March 30, 2001. However, it cautioned him "to be more careful regarding his calendar and scheduling."
Similarly, two years later, Michael G. Daugherty of Williamstown alleged that despite being paid a $1,500 retainer, Albright failed "to perform the duties promised and did not respond to calls requesting a refund." Records show, Daugherty retained Albright to assist his sister-in-law in obtaining custody of her minor son from a previous marriage.
Albright, records show, did not respond to repeated ODC requests for him to respond to Daugerty's Nov. 6, 2002, complaint. Only after receiving a subpoena to appear in Charleston on July 17, 2003, did Albright respond to the complaint in which he said the matter was resolved.
However, Albright declined to answer to the allegations he failed to properly communicate with his client, and act diligently on his behalf. According to records, the ODC closed the case on Dec. 17, 2004, unable to verify if he in fact refunded Daugherty's money, but telling Albright he was "advised" about not complying with an inquiry.
A few months prior to Daugherty filing his complaint, Jackie M. Martin, an inmate at the Mount Olive Correctional Center, filed a complaint against Albright. Much like Daugherty, records show, Martin alleged he paid Albright a retainer only for him to do nothing.
In Martin's case, he paid Albright $750 deposit toward a $4,000 retainer to file a habeas corpus petition with the Wood Circuit Court in his case. Records show that Martin had to file the petition pro se on May 6, 2002, to meet the one-year statute of limitations placed on such matters by federal law.
In addition to filing a complaint against Albright on July 9, 2002, Martin filed a civil suit against him in Wood Circuit Court for breech of contract. In his suit, Martin asked for $3,250 for legal services not rendered, and $5,000 for emotional distress.
Again, records show Albright filed to respond to the ODC's inquiry in the complaint lodged against him. Also, Albright did not reply to the allegations Martin leveled at him in circuit court.
The issue was resolved on May 17, 2004, after Martin asked his complaint be withdrawn. Court records show Martin asked his civil suit against Albright be dismissed after they'd reached an agreement. Though no details about the agreement were contained in the court file, the ODC "cautioned" Albright about his duties to communicate with clients, and respond to ODC demands for information.
Prior to Martin's complaint, a fellow inmate, Adam J. Hall, lodged one against Albright on April 20, 2004. Hall, records show, alleges Albright failed to file an appeal in his 2001 conviction for sexual assault based on newly obtained evidence that could possibly exonerate him.
In Hall's complaint, Albright responded to the ODC's inquiry. In his reply, records show, Albright said an appeal would only work against Hall because an independent lab that he conferred showed DNA evidence belonging to Hall.
The ODC dismissed the case last month, but not without "warning" Albright that it is the "general obligation of lawyers to return original file documents to their clients." It continued by saying "failure to comply with applicable rules regarding client files in the future may warrant appropriate disciplinary action."
Another rule violation
Preceding these complaints was one filed by Genevieve R. Cross of Parkersburg. Much like Ramsey, Cross alleged Albright failed to diligently settle an estate to which she was an heir.
According to her complaint filed on April 6, 1998, Cross alleged Jeanne Johnson in her will made Albright the executor of her estate, and Cross its caretaker in which she was to be provided a key to the house.
Cross alleged Albright failed to comply with Johnson's wishes. Though it denied Cross' petition to have him removed as executor, the Wood County Commission did order Albright to provide Cross with a key to the house, and finalize appraisement of the estate.
Though Albright complied with the Commission's order, records show Cross became dissatisfied with the speed in which he was liquidating the estate. After several requests, Albright responded to ODC's inquiry on Sep. 15, 1998, saying the settlement was complicated by complicated stock and retirement plans.
According to records, Albright later informed the ODC in July 1999, Johnson's estate, excepting her house, was liquidated. However, it was being appraised, and soon should be ready for sale.
Three months later, the ODC closed the case noting that estates can "sometimes take a long period of time to settle." Also, records show Albright was "urged to diligently handle such matters in the future and to be more careful about explaining matters to heirs."
Furthermore, the ODC found Albright in violation of the Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct dealing with responding to its inquiry. Rather than bring a statement of charges against him, records show ODC "strongly cautioned [Albright] to comply ... in the future."
Sanction without punishment
When the ODC closed its case against Albright in Cross' case, his father was in the midst of his second campaign for Supreme Court. According to the Secretary of State's Office, Joseph Albright Sr. filed pre-candidacy papers in June 1999.
A former Speaker of the House of Delegates, Albright Sr. was tapped by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton in 1995 to fill a vacancy on the Court created by William T. Brotherton Jr. After suffering a heart attack in 2004, Brotherton decided to retire in 1995 -- a year short of finishing a full 12-year term.
In 1996, Albright sought to keep his seat on the Court by running for one of the two, full-term seats open that year. However, Democrats gave the nod to then-circuit judges Larry V. Starcher and Elliott E. "Spike" Maynard who later won in the general election.
After his appointment ended, Albright Sr. returned to private practice. In 2000, he, along with Justice Robin Jean Davis, was successful in receiving the nomination for the two full-term seats on the court open that year.
In 1996, Davis ran for the unexpired term on the court created by Justice Thomas H. Miller, who retired in 1994. Though Caperton appointed West Virginia University law school professor Franklin Clekley to fill Miller's vacancy, he decided against running for the remainder of the term.
Facing token Republican opposition, both Albright and Davis were successful in winning seats on the Court in the November 2000 general election.