CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has suspended a Beckley attorneys law license for three years.
On July 22, the Supreme Court issued its mandate, suspending David S. Hart's license to practice law in West Virginia for three years and ordered him to pay the costs associated with both disciplinary proceedings.
Hart was also ordered to pay restitution to two clients and provide a statement of account to a third client and refund to the third client any unearned portion of the retainer.
"These sanctions were issued based upon multiple findings that respondent did not diligently work on his clients' cases; failed to communicate with his clients; failed to properly terminate his representation of clients; failed to expedite litigation; and failed to respond to Disciplinary Counsel," an Office of Disciplinary Counsel press release states.
Hart must issue refunds to Casey M. Johnson in the amount of $2,600 and Charles E. Banks in the amount of $5,200, according to the July 22 mandate. He must also reimburse ODC for the costs of this action in the amount of $2,716.44.
The Supreme Court issued its order June 9, wherein Justice Robin Jean Davis stated that the Lawyer Disciplinary Board instituted the proceedings against Hart and suggested a one-year suspension. However, the ODC disagreed with the length of the proposed suspension, and recommended a two-year suspension.
The court imposed the three-year suspension, due to the egregious and repetitive nature of Hart's misconduct, according to the order.
Hart has practice law in West Virginia since 1999 and the first statement of charges was filed with the Supreme Court on July 30, 2013. The first case against Hart consisted of complaints from six of his clients.
A second statement of charges was filed against Hart on April 11, 2014 and included complaints from one of Hart's clients.
Hart's clients claimed that he failed to communicate with clients regarding the status of their cases and that he violated the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Johnson hired Hart to represent her in a custody modification and paid his retainer fee of $2,500. She paid half of the retainer fee in January 2011 and paid the final payment in June 2011, however, despite numerous calls and voicemails, she did not hear from Hart again until August 2011, when he informed her that he had not filed her custody modification yet because her case had "fell through the cracks."
By April 2012, Johnson informed Hart that his services would no longer be needed and requested a refund of her retainer fee. She then filed her complaint with the ODC in August 2012. Hart failed to file any response with the ODC after she filed her complaint.
In Banks' case, he filed a complaint with the ODC in September 2012 after being represented by Hart in 2008. Banks had hired Hart to contest the administration of Banks' father's estate and paid a flat fee of $5,000 plus filing fees for legal representation.
Hart sent Banks' a letter that he planned to have the petition ready to file by the first week of February 2010, however, Hart failed to communicate with Banks anytime after that regarding the case.
The Hearing Panel Subcommittee recommended Hart be suspended for one year, required to issue refunds to Johnson and Banks before petitioning for reinstatement, required to issue an itemized statement to a third client and required to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceeding.
ODC filed an objection, recommending a suspension of 18 months, and later recommended an addition six-month suspension to its previous suggestion.
Hart's conduct violated duties owed to his clients, to the public, to the legal system and to the legal profession, the order states.
Hart violated his duties to the legal system and the profession by failing to comply with ODC's requests for information during the course of the underlying disciplinary matters and ignoring orders from the court regarding handling of appeals in certain cases, as well as rebuffing the directive to file a response brief in the disciplinary matters currently before the court for decision.
"Mr. Hart has exhibited a pattern and practice of accepting retainer fees but then failing to carry out services; failing to communicate with his clients; failing to expedite cases consistent with the interests of his clients; and failing to respond to ODC," the order states.
Hart also showed a propensity for accepting and keeping retainer fees for work which he did not perform and he also failed to return fees when requested by his clients when they realized the degree of his ineptitude in advancing their cases, according to the order.
Because of this, the Supreme Court ordered a three-year suspension for Hart and ordered him to pay Johnson $2,600 and Banks $5,200. He must issue the refunds prior to petitioning for reinstatement.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case numbers: 13-0748, 14-0349