Attorney previously warned about communication failure

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 20, 2011

CHARLESTON – Prior to her reprimand last year, records show the state Bar instructed April Conner on three separate occasions to communicate better with her clients.

According to her disciplinary file, Conner had three complaints lodged against her in successive years by clients she represented in criminal cases. Two court-appointed clients said she failed to timely communicate with them in the course of their respective habeas corpus petitions, and the third said she refused to provide a refund of his retainer.

Conner was appointed on January 24 and March 10, 2005, to respectively represent Hubert Lusk and Scott B Coburn in their writs for habeas corpus. Records are unclear as why both men were incarcerated.

In Coburn's case, Conner was instructed to help him file an amended petition within 45 days. Coburn's complaint alleges both he, and unspecified relatives were unsuccessful in contacting Conner during that time.

This lead Coburn to notify Harrison Circuit Judge James A. Matish via a letter dated May 23, 2005, of Conner's failure to communicate with him. Also, he asked for an extension in filing the amended writ.

Eight days later, Matish forwarded a copy of Coburn's letter to Conner with a cover letter saying "'Please address yourself to this matter.'" In a letter dated June 9, 2005, Conner responded saying Coburn had filed a complaint with ODC, and she wished to withdraw as counsel.

In response to Coburn's complaint, she said her efforts to speak with him were hampered when between March 30 and April 18, 2005 he was placed outside the general population due to disciplinary problems. Also she said she refused to take calls from Coburn's mother due to allegations she was conspiring to smuggle contraband to him when he was previously at the Anthony Center in Greenbrier County.

Also, Conner said any time not in court she spent taking care of a sick nephew hospitalized in Morgantown from May 8 to 31.

ODC closed Coburn's complaint on Dec. 10, 2005, finding Conner did not commit a Rules violation. However, citing the lack of "significant communication" between she and Coburn during the first 45 days, ODC warned Conner to do a better job in "keeping a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter."

According to his complaint, Lusk alleges Conner failed to respond to his repeated telephone calls and letters. This led him to file his complaint on May 26, 2006.

In response to the complaint, Conner said she was appointed "'within a matter of days'" prior to an omnibus hearing in Lusk's case. Though she received verbal permission by the judge to extend the deadline in response to a motion she faxed the court, Conner acknowledged there was no written order extending the deadline.

Also, Conner acknowledged before she was replaced as Lusk's attorney on Oct. 26, 2006, she did not speak with him for several months though her legal assistant spoke with his aunt.

As in Coburn's case, ODC closed Lusk's on March 5, 2007, finding Conner did not commit a Rule violation, but reminding her of her duty to timely communicate with clients.

Three months before her removal from Lusk's case, Conner was hired by William G. Romano of Bridgeport to defend him on misdemeanor charges of domestic assault, and violation of a protection order. According to this complaint, he paid Conner $1,750.

A month later, Romano terminated Conner's employment, and asked he be refunded any unused portion of his retainer. In a letter dated Aug. 17, 2007, Conner informed him his retainer was "non-refundable."

Though it closed his complaint on March 8, 2008, without finding she committed a Rules violation, ODC ordered Conner to provide Romano with an accounting of the work she performed, and a refund of any used retainer. Also, ODC instructed her to make changes to her fee structures as they specifically relate to non-refundable fees, and inform them in writing of those changes.

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