CHARLESTON – In addition those for conflicts of interest, records show Ira Haught has refused to heed multiple warnings, including three admonishments, to be more diligent in handling his client’s cases.
Twice in 2006, and once in 2007, Haught was admonished by the Lawyer Disciplinary Board. The admonishments stemmed from complaints filed by David P. Dowler, Karen I. Harris and Thomas and Doris Davis.
In his complaint filed July 1, 2004, Dowler, then an inmate at the North Central Regional Jail in Glenwood, accused Haught of failing to communicate with him, and file an appeal of his conviction on charges of burglary, and conspiracy the previous February. Among the grounds Dowler hoped to appeal was ineffective assistance of counsel.
In response to Dowler’s complaint, Haught said after reviewing Dowler’s case and speaking with his trial attorney, Mark Cabaniss – a former Wood County assistant prosecutor now in private practice in California – he believed any appeal “was friviolous and would be a waste of the Court’s time.” Also, he any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel would have to be raised in a writ of habeas corpus.
Dowler replied there were more than sufficient grounds for appeal, including Wood Circuit Judge George Hill’s failure to give him credit for time served.
The Board in closing Dowler’s complaint on April 11, 2006 determined Haught violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 and 1.3 dealing with competence, and communication, respectively, in failing to file the appeal. It reminded him of the state Supreme Court’s rulings in Turner v. Haynes and Rhodes v. Leverette that “it is ‘not the role of defense counsel to determine whether a defendant’s right of appeal of conviction is friviolous.’”
Also, the Board warned him that “similar conduct in the future may result in more severe discipline.”
On Jan. 21, 2005, Harris, a resident of New Smyra Beach, Fla., and Haught’s aunt, accused him of improperly withholding $23,062.28 from the sale of oil and gas wells to the due the estate of Bernice Haught, his grandmother. In addition to admitting he paid some of the heirs, but not Bernice’s, Haught also confessed to not promptly responding to Harris’ inquiries.
Also, he admitted that $766.08 was left in his trust account following disbursement of sale proceeds to the other heirs. Because he withheld money owed to Harris, the Board on Nov. 21, 2006 determined he violated Rule 1.5 dealing with safekeeping of property.
Six months later, the Board issued its last admonishment against Haught in response to a the Davis’s complaint. In their complaint filed April 20, 2006, the Davises, residents of Parkersburg, alleged Haught not only failed to keep them informed of the status of their lawsuit regarding a property dispute, but also mediated a settlement without their consent.
Because he paid opposing counsel $2,400 from his own funds on the Davises behalf, the Board determined Haught violated Rule 1.8 by engaging in a prohibited transaction.
‘Less than optimal’ work
Since 2007, Haught has been either warned or cautioned four times for not timely communicating with Michael C. Collins, Charles Leonard, Marion J. Hose and Renee I. Buchwald.
In his complaint filed Sept. 12, 2007, Collins, a Pennsboro resident, accused Haught of failing to keep him informed of the status of his child support case after paying him a $500 on July 6, 2006. In response, Haught said he advised Collins that “‘it may take some period of time until I am able to work on his child support arrearage matter.’”
After Collins in a letter dated Aug. 31, 2007 asked for a refunded, Haught a week later provided it. An invoice he provided to Collins showed Haught performed a total of an hour’s work over the course of three separate days.
In closing Collins’ complaint on April 22, 2008, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti reminding Haught of his duties under the Rules to be more diligent in both pursuing a client’s case, and keeping him or her informed of its status.
Hoping to file a lawsuit to get clarification of a disputed boundary on property he owned in Doddridge County, Leonard of Franklin, Ohio, paid Haught a $320 retainer on Aug. 4, 2006. When Haught failed to return half a dozen calls he made between March 12, and June 26, 2007, Leonard filed his complaint Nov. 5, 2007.
In addition to disputing Leonard’s claim he failed to return repeated calls, Haught said he wrote him saying that no surveyors he contacted were willing to do the work. As result, he could not proceed with a lawsuit.
Records show Leonard’s complaint was closed on Jan. 28, 2009, with Cipoletti reminding Haught his communication was “less than optimal” with Leonard, and he needed to improve his skills with clients.
In her complaint filed Feb. 1, 2008, Hose, an Augusta resident, alleged Haught failed to keep her adequately informed of the status in settling the estate of her daughter, Tanya Fink, who, along with two of sons, were shot, and killed on July 1, 2006. Hose said she and Haught did not sign a retainer agreement.
Haught responded saying it was his understanding he was hired to help Hose gain custody of Fink’s surviving son, Dylan, and find out the status of the State Police’s investigation into Tanya’s death. Research he conducted discovered a death certificate had yet to be filed with the Ritchie County Clerk’s Office, and nobody, including Hose, filed to be the administrator of Fink’s estate.
Also, Haught said on “numerous occasions” spoke with State Police, including the Harrisville detachment, about Fink’s death. Nothing is stated in the complaint what, if anything, he discovered.
Though he gave updates to Hose via telephone on Nov. 16, 2006 and May 2, June 15 and Aug. 8, 2007, Haught refunded her $705 after she filed her complaint. In closing it on Feb. 27, 2008, Cipoletti cautioned Haught to “use written fee agreements in all future cases to avoid any confusion about the nature and scope of the representation.”
Buchwald, a Pennsboro resident, filed her complaint against Haught on May 7, 2009. In it, she alleged he failed to adequately assist her in her divorce, and withdrew from the case before a final order was entered and after she filed her complaint.
In response, Haught said he was working on revisions to the final order prior to his withdraw. His withdrew was prompted when Buchwald failed to make an agreed payment toward the $1,500 retainer.
On Nov. 3, 2010 the Board closed the complaint with the Board reminding him that Buchwald’s “failure to meet her financial obligations does not release [Haught] from fulfilling his responsibilities.” Also, it again warned him that “failure to comply with these duties will result in more severe discipline.”