Fairmont attorney indefinitely suspended for failing to communicate with client, Bar

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 6, 2011

CHARLESTON – For not only mishandling a court-appointed client's case, but also ignoring a subsequent ethics inquiry, the state Supreme Court has suspended a Marion County attorney.

The Court on Sept. 9 ordered Gregory G. Michael, a sole practitioner in Fairmont, indefinitely suspended. Michael's career was put on hiatus following a finding by the state Bar he failed to diligently file a habeas corpus petition for a client as well as answer for it when a complaint was filed against him.

According to the statement of charges filed against him a year earlier by the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Bar's prosecutorial arm, Michael was appointed on Aug. 26, 2008, to help Clarence E. Miller Jr. file a habeas corpus petition in Barbour County. Records are unclear as to why Miller was incarcerated.

By March 5, 2009, the statement maintains Michael failed to communicate with Miller including responding to his requests to return his paperwork so as to file his petition pro se. Six months later, Miller petitioned the circuit court for appointment of new counsel.

In the interim, the Bar began its investigation into Miller's complaint. According to the statement, Michael did not respond to repeated requests by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, to answer Miller's allegation.

The only time Michael made any contact with ODC was on Feb. 17 prior to its sanctions hearing on his case. After first calling ODC staff in Charleston in the morning informing them he was running late, but would be at the hearing between 10:30 and 11 a.m., Michael then called again in the afternoon saying he was in route from Fairmont.

According to the subsequent report filed with the Court by the Board's hearing panel subcommittee, ODC conducted the Feb. 17 sanctions hearing in absentia. Two days later, it sent Michael a letter, with multiple exhibits, reminding him the hearing was held in Fairmont, not Charleston.

Michael's prior disciplinary problems, including three admonishments, and two decades as a practicing attorney lead the Board to recommend, and the Court accept the indefinite suspension. Michael, 60, was first admitted to the Bar on Nov. 1, 1988.

In addition to the suspension, the Court ordered Michael wait until at least March before filing for reinstatement, undergo a psychological evaluation and pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding. Upon reinstatement, he is to have his practice supervised for two years, and complete 12 additional hours – six in ethics and six in criminal law – of continuing education.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 35293

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