Communicating with a client who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison can be challenging. Still, the Supreme Court Rules apply whether an attorney is hired or appointed and whether her clients are difficult or cooperative.
In this ethics decision, SCOW found that Attorney Boyle committed a host of SCR violations, including failure to keep her clients (both prisoners) reasonably informed about the status of their cases; failure to comply with a client’s reasonable requests for information; failure to communicate the basis for her fees and expenses; failure to respond to a client’s request for information about her fees and expenses; failure to return the client’s file upon request; charging an unreasonable fee; failure to hold unearned or advanced fees in trust until earned; and failure to return unearned fees to the client upon termination of representation.
Much of Boyle’s misconduct centered on her poor communication with clients. Boyle presented a long list of excuses for why she did not return calls and letters, but SCOW rejected them. It is worth noting the excuses that SCOW found so unpersuasive:
· C.M. [a client] wrote and called [Boyle] too frequently.
· Telephone calls from prisons are not clearly identified on telephone systems.
· [Boyle] was out of the office or busy when C.M. called.
·[Boyle’s] failure to respond to C.M.’s communications was reasonable given that there was no ongoing activity in his case at that time.
· C.M. could relay messages to [Boyle] through his family and friends.
· Written communications to a client in the federal prison system are risky because other inmates may steal them.
· Keeping memos or notes of her communications with clients is dangerous for [Boyle’s] clients.
· Setting up telephone conferences through the prison system is difficult.
· [Boyle] is too busy to document all communications with clients.
· [Boyle] could not send C.M. his file because it was too large to transmit to the prison.
· The precise nature of services to be rendered in criminal matters is difficult to state in writing at the commencement of representation.
· [Boyle] was unaware and therefore did not inform C.M. of the district court’s denial of relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because of the “unique nature” of the federal court’s electronic filing system.
Boyle’s license has been suspended for 6 months. Before she may resume practice, Boyle will have to show that she has made efforts to remedy the causes of her repeated failures to serve her clients ethically. She must also pay $2,500 in restitution to one of her clients and pay for the costs of this OLR proceeding.