CHARLESTON – A Cross Lanes attorney has decided against contesting a statement of charges against him, and opted to surrender his law license.
The state Supreme Court on Jan. 19 accepted the motion of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board that Martin R. Smith Jr. be disbarred. The Board's motion came following a Nov. 29 agreement it reached with Smith that he ask for his license to be voluntarily annulled.
In July, the Board filed a four-count statement of charges against Smith alleging he committed 20 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Included in the statement were allegations Smith comingled and misappropriated settlement funds, forged the signature of a notary on one settlement and practiced law without license.
A statement of charges acts as an indictment for disciplinary purposes.
Turbulent two years
According to the statement, Smith received $33,296 in four separate lawsuit settlements between March 2 and June 9, 2009. However, Mike Clifford, whom Smith the year before entered into an office-sharing agreement that included cases and expenses, denied authorization of the settlements, and claimed $8,700 belonged to him.
Though Smith agreed to repay Clifford the full amount, he only made good on $1,500 by the time the statement was filed.
Also, the statement alleged Smith failed to open a separate client trust account to run all settlement checks trough. Instead, he deposited and wrote all his business related checks through the same account.
Furthermore, Smith admitted to notarizing Jeanine L. Hedrick's signature on one of the settlement releases without her permission.
The remaining charges against Smith stemmed from his representation of three clients in 2010 and 2011following suspension of his license in 2009. According the statement, Smith's license was administratively suspended on Sept. 21 for failing to complete the necessary hours for continuing legal education as required by the state Bar.
Despite the suspension, Smith accepted $750 on Dec. 10, 2009, to help Sharon Lyons with an estate matter, appeared in Putnam Circuit Court on Aug. 9, 2010 on behalf of Mark B. Francisco in is arraignment on a felony charge and continued to work on Erica Nutter's divorce case. Though he was retained by Nutter a year before his suspension, Smith failed to inform her he could no longer work on it due to his suspension.
The statement further alleges Smith not only misinformed her of a hearing scheduled for Sept. 28, 2010, but also failed to even file the petition. Also, Smith never returned to Nutter any of the unearned portion of the $1,650 retainer she paid him.
Smith, who was initially admitted to the Bar on June 7, 1984, may apply for readmission in 2017 following the automatic five-year prohibition on practicing law.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 11-1068