Morgantown attorney surrenders law license amidst 41 ethics complaints

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 6, 2009

CHARLESTON - Following numerous allegations he'd abandoned his clients, a Monongalia County attorney has decided to abandon his license to practice law.

The state Supreme Court on Sept. 24 ordered the disbarment of C. Patrick Carrick. The Court's order came at the request of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, following a petition Carrick, 58, of Morgantown, filed a month earlier asking for voluntary annulment of the license he was first granted on Feb. 14, 1978.

In West Virginia, a disbarment is an automatic five-year prohibition from practicing law.

Carrick's annulment came in the midst of over 40 of his former clients lodging complaints against him with ODC. Most of the complaints stemmed from Carrick failing to diligently handle worker's compensation claims, the focus of his practice, including pocketing money awarded to clients.

Prior to his annulment, the Court earlier this year placed Carrick on an indefinite suspension following complaints from clients who claimed he not only failed to return phone calls, but also found the doors to his office locked.

Communication breakdown

According to ODC's petition for suspension filed on Dec. 3, Carrick's troubles began last September when seven clients lodged complaints. By the time the petition was filed, the number grew to nine, and Carrick failed to respond to ODC's inquiry into all but one.

The nine clients who filed complaints accused Carrick of, among other things, "a lack of diligence, lack of communication, unreasonable fees, failure to keep client's property separate from [his] property, failure to notify client of funds received...and failure to supervise nonlawyer assistants." In its petition, ODC noted that several other clients who had yet to file a formal complaint stated that after failing to reach Carrick by phone they went to his office "found it locked with a note on the door with the number for the West Virginia State Bar."

Records show ODC received word from Brickstreet Insurance, the private carrier that handles most worker's compensation claims, they received multiple inquiries from Carrick's clients about non-payment of their claims.

In the course of its inquiry, ODC found that despite being seen going into and out of the office, Carrick's secretary never bothered to answer the phone or the door. Also, people at the business next to his on University Avenue said they had not seen Carrick "for several months."

Because his "recent pattern of misconduct" put his "clients' interests ... at substantial risk," ODC petitioned the Court for Carrick's immediate, and indefinite suspension. In conjunction with the suspension, the Court authorized Chief Monongalia Circuit Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr. to appoint an attorney to conduct an inventory of all of Carrick's files, and to take whatever action necessary to protect the interests of those clients.

16 complaints

No sooner did the Court suspend Carrick than the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, file a statement of charges against him on Feb. 5. A statement of charges acts as an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

The 16-count statement accused Carrick of committing various violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct including communication, safekeeping of property, misconduct, diligence and failure to respond to a request for information. The statement stemmed from complaints filed by Thomas W. Turpin, Robert J. Mann, Floyd E. Teter, James S. Scritchfield, Kenneth C. Tritchler, Alice B. Hartsell, Sharon L. Swiger, Frank A. Ciliberto, Rickey A. Blaney, Blair E. Smith Jr., Roger L. Johnson, Matthew L. Lemley, Jefferson L. Patrick, Ashlea R. Duda, Larry D. Hall, Roger A. VanSickle Sr.

Almost all of the complaints allege Carrick failed to timely handle their worker's compensation claim. The one that doesn't was filed by Mann, an Ohio attorney, who alleged Carrick failed to provide Nationwide Insurance $7,500 due it from a subrogation claim Carrick handled.

Of the 15 clients who filed worker's compensation-related complaints, records show five -- Tritchler, Hartsell, Ciliberto, Blaney and Hall - all allege Carrick pocketed money belonging to them. In its statement, the Board tallied the cumulative total "wrongfully misappropriated" at $39,493.46.

One client, Ciliberto, alleged that initially Carrick was timely forwarding his money. However, once payments became sparse, Ciliberto said he had to make a round-trip from Oxford, Pa., to Morgantown to ensure he received his money.

One client who did not accuse Carrick of improperly converting funds, VanSickle, alleged, he, too, nonetheless, had to make needless trips to Carrick's office. Records show VanSickle made three round-trips between Beckley and Morgantown to meet with Carrick to discuss his claim, all to no avail.

25 others

According to Carrick's disciplinary file, the 16 clients whose complaints combined for the statement of charges weren't the one ones with an issue with him. Between Jan. 21, the day before his suspension, and May 27, 25 other clients lodged ethics complaints.

Two complaints filed by Donna Henline of Weston and Mindy L. Ice of Fairview were dismissed as a result of the suspension.

Of the remaining 23, all but three dealt with problems in handling worker's compensation claims. Of the other three, two were black lung, and one was a personal injury case.

One client, Sharon J. Allen of Masontown, alleged she considered discharging Carrick due to his lack of diligence in her case, but was discouraged not to by other "notable attorneys" who said Carrick was just fine. Another, Willie J. Williams of Connellsville, Pa. alleged he was so desperate to receive money due him that he had to "beg his [Carrick's] secretary" for assistance.

Due to Carrick's annulment, the 23 complaints were dismissed, and placed in a reinstatement file in the event he decides to seek readmission in 2014.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 34613

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