Supreme Court suspends Welch attorney for three months

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 30, 2019

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals suspended a Welch attorney for three months after a client made a complaint against her.

Melissa Davis was also ordered to be supervised for two years after her suspension and to refund $3,000 to her clients, according to documents obtained by The West Virginia Record.

Davis also needs to complete six hours of continuing legal education in ethics and law office management within the next 12 months and reimburse the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for the costs of the proceeding.

Davis was assisting Ethel Phillips with a lawsuit until she passed away on Sept. 7, 2016. After her death, Thomas P. Phillips and Connie J. Phillips continued with the lawsuit. The Phillipses requested documents regarding the lawsuit several times but never received anything from Davis.

The complainants eventually went to Wyoming Circuit Court to get a copy of the docket sheet and found that Davis had not filed anything except a notice of appearance and had failed to do any of the work they had requested.

The Phillipses claimed Davis lied to them because she had not performed any of the work in their case. On Oct. 24, 2016, they left a message for Davis letting her know she was fired and requested a refund of the $3,000 retainer fee they had paid her. They left Davis several similar messages on three more occasions that she did not respond to.

The Phillipses then filed an ethics complaint against her on Nov. 10, 2016, requesting a copy of the client file and a refund of the retainer fee. 

The Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel never heard anything from Davis, despite requests for her to file a response to the complaint and letting her know a hearing was scheduled. On March 10, 2017, Davis finally contacted the Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel and said she would file a response and provide the client file to the complainants, but that she could not appear to provide a sworn statement on the day the counsel requested because she had a hearing that day.

Ten days later, Thomas Phillips contacted the Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel because they had still not received the client file and the Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel reached out to Davis again, but still could not get Davis to respond.

Finally, in May 2017, Davis mailed a copy of the client file to the Phillipses and provided a sworn statement to the Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel.

In her sworn statement, Davis said she had spent about 25 hours reviewing the client file when she took over representation of the Ethel Phillips and that she had spent more than 45 hours working with Ethel Phillips on the case, but had not communicated with the complainants about the number of hours she worked nor how much money they owned her. She said she had never provided them with any itemized billing statements or records.

Davis also told the counsel she would provide both them and the Phillipses with an itemized statement regarding the work she had performed.

Davis said in her statement that she and opposing counsel had agreed to participate in mediation before depositions took place and that she had not prepared a witness list because it was premature to do so. She also said she attended several hearings after the previous attorney had signed an incorrect order.

After the sworn statement, Davis never provided an itemized statement of her work and never responded to requests to do so. 

The Hearing Panel Subcommittee recommended suspension for three months, two years supervision upon reinstatement, a refund of the $3,000 retainer fee, continuing legal education and reimbursement for proceedings. The Lawyer Disciplinary Board consented to the recommended sanctions.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Case number: 18-0112

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