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Braxton attorney accused of lacking urgency in filing appeals

By Lawrence Smith | May 18, 2012

CHARLESTON – A Braxton County attorney faces disciplinary charges he failed to timely file appeals of two domestic-related cases to the state Supreme Court.

The Lawyer Disciplinary Board filed a two-count statement of charges against Dan Grindo on Feb. 21. In its statement, the Board, the arm of the Court that prosecutes attorney misconduct, alleges Grindo, 34, a sole practitioner in Gassaway, committed five violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct when he first, had to be prodded to file one man's appeal for modification for child support, and parenting time and then, missed the deadline to file an appeal of another man's termination of parental rights.

A statement of charges acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

Nine months late

According to the statement, Grindo on Aug. 24, 2009, filed a petition for appeal to the Court challenging a decision rendered by Braxton Family Law Judge Robert Reed Sowa denying a petition for Grindo's client, Jeffrey E. Skidmore, to have more time with his son. In addition to denying Skidmore's petition, Sowa granted an expedited petition filed by the boy's mother, Crystal L. Rogers, for an uptick in child support.

Grindo filed his petition for appeal after Braxton Circuit Judge Richard Facemire affirmed Sowa's rulings.

According to the statement, the Court on Oct. 29 agreed to hear Skidmore's appeal. The Court on Dec. 21 set a scheduling order in which Grindo was informed he would need to file his brief within 30 days of receiving the order.

When it was not received by March 2010, the Clerk's Office contacted Grindo about it. He said it would be submitted the next day.

However, by June 8, it hadn't. The Clerk's Office, in a letter dated that day, notified Grindo he had another 20 days to file his brief.

When he, again, failed to do so, the Court on Sept. 9 imposed sanctions on him. However, it gave him another 15 days to file his brief.

According to the statement, Grindo did file it on Oct. 4, 2010. A week later in response to a complaint the Court initiated with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Grindo said because "he was handling the matter on a pro bono basis...admitted that he failed to adhere to the Court's briefing schedule."

Last April, in an opinion written by Justice Margaret A. Workman, the Court upheld Sowa's ruling on Skidmore paying more in child support, but reversed his ruling on denying Skidmore more parenting time.

Another never filed

Two months after the Court's ruling in the Skidmore case, Grindo filed a notice of appeal in an abuse and neglect case involving Joseph Dobbins. According to court records, Facemire on May 17, 2011, granted a petition filed nearly a year earlier by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to terminate the parental rights of both Dobbins, and Thomasina Bennett, the mother of Dobbins's son, Walker.

DHHR petitioned to terminate their parental rights on the grounds Bennett had two other children removed from her care in Upshur and Harrison counties, and Dobbins was "in need of a substantially lengthy rehabilitation program to treat his sexual abuse history." Also, DHHR said Bennett and Dobbins "did little to remedy the situation and did follow through with a reasonable family case plan" after given a six-month improvement period.

In his notice, Grindo disputed that. Dobbins, Grindo said, "was making appropriate progress during the improvement period and that the lower court improperly terminated parental rights in the face of that progress."

According to the statement, the Court issued a briefing schedule on June 21. In it, the Court gave Grindo a month to file his brief so the appeal could be perfected.

Though he filed an appendix on July 29, Grindo failed to file the petition. In response to multiple calls from the Clerk's Office, Grindo said "he would promptly file the brief."

When he failed to file one by Aug. 26, DHHR filed a motion to dismiss the case. Records show, the Court granted it on Sept. 8.

Six days later, the Court again lodged a complaint against Grindo with ODC. In his reply dated Oct. 13, Grindo "again acknowledged that he failed to either file a motion to withdraw or otherwise comply with the Order of Court directing him to perfect the appeal he filed on his client's behalf."

The statement accuses Grindo of violating Rules dealing with diligence, expediting litigation and fairness to opposing party and counsel. The Board opted to issue the statement against Grindo based on several aggravating factors including four prior admonishments it gave him between 2008 and 2009.

An evidentiary hearing on the statement is scheduled for Thursday, May 24 at the Flatwoods Days Inn.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case numbers 12-0228 (Grindo statement of charges), 35291 (Skidmore appeal) and 11-0931 (Dobbins appeal)

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