Justice rehear annulment case of Mingo attorney

By Chris Dickerson | May 22, 2008

CHARLESTON – A Williamson attorney had his day in court again.

The last time the Supreme Court of Appeals gave William Duty one last chance to save his law license at oral arguments in January, he didn't show up. The Justices, who annulled his license in February, again heard the charges against him May 21.

This time, Duty appeared.

"I never thought I'd be here before this court in this capacity," Duty said as he opened his arguments. "I have begun a process to remedy the things that almost led to my utter destruction.

"I am back to work. I'm taking care of my drug addiction. I've been clean for two years. I attend church. I coach Little League Baseball. My wife has helped me through this, and I owe her a whole lot. …

"I hope to keep my license so I can continue to make a livelihood."

Duty's petition for rehearing declared, "The undersigned has previously expressed the reasons he failed to appear at oral argument and apologized for the same."

He wrote that he didn't file a brief for the Court last year because he was seriously ill for at least half the year and neither physically or emotionally able to prepare one. He blames his conduct on OxyContin addiction.

The decision to rehear the case bothered Rachael Fletcher Cipoletti of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. She pressed harder than ever for annulment. She revealed that last October, while she awaited Supreme Court action against Duty, she received another complaint against him.

Former client Helen Butcher claimed she received notice from a collection agency about medical bills Duty said he paid, according to Cipoletti. Duty has not paid the provider or answered the complaint, she wrote.

Annulment voided the complaint, but Cipoletti promised to act on the complaint if the Court lets Duty keep his license. She argued that he engaged in misconduct before he took OxyContin.

He failed to pay state and federal withholding taxes on his legal assistant's earnings from 1993 to 2003, she wrote. He didn't seek treatment for his addiction until charges were filed against him, she wrote. Duty has been the subject of six other complaints, she wrote, and he responded to only one.

Cipoletti wrote that although Duty swore he delivered a March 17 motion for reconsideration and his petition for rehearing on her, he didn't serve them on her. She wrote that she had to call the Court to get copies.

According to Cipoletti, Duty commingled and converted $25,000 in client funds, tried to overbill a client $3,500, shared a fee with a nonlawyer, failed to segregate disputed sums from his own, and failed to keep a client informed. He made false statements under oath and tried to interfere with the disciplinary process by asking a client to withdraw a complaint, she wrote.

"The facts in this case are as clear as the case law," Cipoletti told the Justice on May 21. "His pattern is one of continuance. He fails to acknowledge his actions of misconduct.

"I do have compassion for his situation. But my job is to make sure these types of things don't happen. When we have to come here and ask you to remove a lawyer from our ranks, I do so with compassion. But I do so out of the interest of the public."

Duty, in his petition for rehearing, wrote that with regard to fee splitting, he offered an incentive to a former employee as an inducement to return to work. He wrote that Sandy Gillman, who claimed he let the statute of limitations run out on a personal injury claim, knew the deadline and purposefully failed to do anything about it.

"Regarding the fee splitting, what happened was that my secretary, who helped get these charges…" Duty told the Justices before Justice Robin Davis interrupted him.

"Don't blame anyone else, Mr. Duty," Davis said. "

In his petition, Duty called Gillman's testimony incredible and said there were contradictions in it. He admitted that he asked Kevin Prater for $3,500 in expenses when his expenses were less, but added that he took nothing. He denied that he overcharged client Randy Stiltner.

He admitted he settled a claim for Rachel Lockhart at $25,000, deposited it in his own account and spent it, but he wrote that she suffered no harm because he paid her back with interest.

Fletcher responded, "It is deeply concerning that Respondent fails to acknowledge the wrongfulness of his conduct and this failure makes it more likely that this type of misconduct will occur in the future."

Fletcher noted that Gillman "failed to do anything except for, of course, hire Respondent, an attorney, to pursue her civil interests."

She wrote that Duty repaid Lockhart after she complained. She added that "to be viewed as a mitigating factor, restitution must be made promptly."

The Court's February order required $2,000 restitution to Stiltner. The Justices prescribed drug or alcohol counseling and an ethics class.

They provided that as a condition of reinstatement, Duty would practice under supervision for two years.

Duty was admitted to the State Bar in 1986.

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