CHARLESTON - The state Bar recently dismissed four complaints against a Wood County attorney, but not without warning him about his conduct in two of them.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, on May 20 dismissed four complaints against Joseph P. Albright Jr. The complaints, records show, were filed by Tamara L. Reynolds, Jessica L. Thomas, Gregory L. Thomas and Nathan L. Goines.
Both Reynolds and Jessica Thomas hired Albright to represent them in domestic issues. Specifically, Reynolds retained Albright to represent her in a hearing regarding visitation for her brother to visit his daughter, for whom Reynolds had custody, and Thomas requested his help in a divorce.
ODC dismissed Reynolds' case citing insufficient evidence to establish a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and Thomas' for being a "fee dispute." Though Gregory Thomas' and Goines' complaints were also dismissed, ODC still had cautionary words for Albright regarding his handling of their cases.
Records show Thomas lodged his complaint against Albright on April 10, 2007. Though it is unclear why he was sent there, Thomas, at the time of his complaint, was an inmate at the North Central Regional Jail in Greenwood.
Nevertheless, Albright was appointed to aid Thomas in appealing his conviction. Thomas alleged that Albright failed to respond to his multiple letters about filing a motion to reconsider his sentence.
In addition to fearing that Albright missed the deadline to file an appeal, Thomas felt Albright should be replaced "because he had a personal friendship with [the] sentencing judge" which created a conflict of interest.
The judge is not named in the complaint.
In his reply, Albright said his unfamiliarity with the case required him additional time to " 'get up to speed.'" He did schedule a hearing on June 19, 2007 to re-sentence Thomas so as to reset the time frame for his appeal.
Albright told ODC that Thomas had not lost any of his appellate rights, and he would " 'see to it that they were reserved.'" However, Albright apparently failed to tell that to Thomas as, in response to Albright's reply, said he'd never been informed as a re-sentencing, and Albright had still yet to contact him.
In a follow-up reply, Albright admitted that he hadn't spoken to Thomas " 'in-depth'" about his appeal. In addition to researching other grounds to raise in Thomas' appeal, Albright said the re-sentencing hearing had be moved to July 2, 2008 after the judge would not allow the June 2007 hearing.
In closing Thomas's complaint, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti said despite insufficient evidence to establish Albright committed a Rule violation, he "is warned to adhere to his obligations to effectively communicate with his clients about his efforts to diligently pursue their cases."
Just over a month Thomas filed his, Goines lodged a complaint against Albright. Goines alleged that despite paying him a $1,000 retainer to file paperwork to help gain custody of his girlfriend's children, Albright failed to keep any of his appointments.
Becoming dissatisfied with Albright's lack of commitment, Goines says he asked for a refund, and return of his file. Despite assurances from Albright's legal assistant both had been mailed, Goines alleges he received neither by the time he filed his complaint on May 18, 2007.
In his reply, Albright said he was prepared to file the paperwork, but didn't after Goines told him not to. Though he acknowledged he missed two appointments, Albright said Goines no-showed him for a third.
On May 1, 2008, Albright vowed he would return both the fee and the file. However, Goines notified ODC Albright gave him a partial refund of $700, and but had yet to receive the file.
Rather than continue to wait, Goines re-created the file by use of official court records.
In closing Goines' complaint, Cipoletti said no disciplinary action is warranted since Albright issued him a "reasonable refund." However, similar to Thomas' appeal, she reminded Albright he has an obligation to timely handle their inquiries, and requests.
"Moreover, Respondent is further warned that refunds should be issued to clients and files should be returned to clients in a prompt manner," Cipoletti said.
According to ODC, Albright still has seven pending ethics complaints against him, including one filed by Beth Agnew and Mark Baker from Steilacoom, Wash., who allege Albright has failed to communicate with them the status of an estate, to which they heirs, that went in probate a year ago.