CHARLESTON - No sooner did a Wood County attorney clear one ethical hurdle than was he presented with another.
Last month, the state Supreme Court held Joseph P. Albright Jr. in contempt for failing to abide by the terms of a reprimand it issued him in January 2007. The terms specified that he settle the estate of Clyde Curtis Carter, and update the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, every three months of his progress.
Though the Court ordered Albright's license suspended, it opted to withhold the suspension until March since the fiduciary commissioner appointed to the Carter estate accepted Albright's proposed settlement.
A month prior to the Court's suspension, the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, submitted a new statement of charges against Albright. The statement, which acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes, includes a charge that Albright failed to act diligently in another estate matter.
Seven complaints lead to charges
Filed on Oct. 19, the statement accuses Albright of mishandling the cases of seven clients. They are David K. Samuels, Richard F. Hart, Marlene and Mitchell Grondalski, Grant DeGarmo, Jennifer A. Cooper, Mary B. Hardesty and Beth A. Agnew.
According the statement, Albright was hired by Samuels, Cooper and Hardesty for a child custody dispute, Hart for a misdemeanor criminal case, and condemnation proceeding, the Grondalskis for a undisclosed civil suit, DeGarmo for an employment matter. Agnew did not hire Albright, but instead is a beneficiary to the estate of Paul W. Smith who, in his will, named Albright as executor.
All six of Albright's clients say that after paying him their respective retainers, he failed to keep them updated on their cases. Three clients, Samuels, Cooper and Hart, went so far as to terminate Albright, and hire another attorney.
In addition to Samuels, Hart and Cooper, the Grondalskis and Hardesty requested an accounting of Albright's work. In spite of ODC's instructions to provide them one, records show he never did.
Like the six others, Agnew lodged an initial complaint with ODC when Albright failed to return repeated messages both she and her husband, Mark Baker, left with him concerning settlement of Smith's estate. Agnew filed a second complaint against Albright in April when he failed to comply with an ODC directive he contact Agnew within two weeks after it closed her initial complaint on Feb. 13.
Records show in some of the complaints lodged against him, he did file an reply. However, some of those were only after ODC threatened to subpoena him to appear at it's office in Charleston to make a sworn statement.
In all seven cases, ODC made multiple attempts earlier this year to get an update from Albright on his progress. All failed as certified letters in all the complaints sent to Albright were returned dated July 3 marked "unclaimed."
In the seven-count statement, Albright is charged with 13 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Among those are dealing with communication, diligence, fees and declining or terminating representation.
In all the counts, Albright was charged each with violating Rule 8.1, failing to respond to ODC's lawful demand for information.
As of presstime, Albright had not filed a reply to the statement, and a hearing before the Board's Hearing Panel Subcommittee had yet to be scheduled.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 35282