STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel., OKLAHOMA BAR ASSOCIATION, Complainant,
LAURIE JEAN MILLER, Respondent.
ORIGINAL PROCEEDING FOR ATTORNEY DISCIPLINE.
Haddock, Assistant General Counsel, Oklahoma Bar Association,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Complainant.
A. Pickens, Edinger, Leonard & Blakley, PLLC, Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma for Respondent.
The Complainant, Oklahoma Bar Association, charged the
Respondent, Laurie Jean Miller, with three counts of
professional misconduct that included failure to competently
represent her clients, failure to be diligent in her
representation of her clients and failure to communicate
effectively with her clients. In addition, the Complainant
charged the Respondent with mishandling of client funds,
violating rules of professional conduct and the commission of
an act contrary to prescribed standards of conduct. Having
found clear and convincing evidence to support all three
counts, the Trial Panel recommended the Respondent be
suspended for eighteen months. We hold there is clear and
convincing evidence that the totality of the Respondent's
conduct warrants disbarment. The Respondent is ordered to pay
the costs as herein provided within ninety days after this
opinion becomes final.
The Complainant, State of Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma
Bar Association (Complainant), began proceedings pursuant to
Rule 6, Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings (RGDP) 5
O.S. 2011, ch. 1, app. 1-A alleging three counts of
professional misconduct against the Respondent, Laurie Jean
Miller (Respondent). The Respondent is an active member of
the Oklahoma Bar Association and is currently in good
standing with the Association. For most of her career she has
been a sole practitioner but has also shared offices with
other attorneys. She left private practice in 2017 and took a
position with an insurance company where she is currently
employed.  The Complainant's allegations
arise from the Respondents conduct towards several of her
clients she had while in private practice. The matters
involved are related to three separate governmental tort
claims actions. The Complainant alleges the Respondent's
actions are in violation of the Oklahoma Rules of
Professional Conduct (ORPC), 5 O.S. 2011, ch. 1, app. 3-A,
and the RGDP and are cause for professional discipline.
Two of the Respondent's former clients filed grievances
against her with the Complainant. Claudia Murcia filed her
grievance on December 23, 2016 (Murcia grievance). Brian
Sanders filed his grievance on November 16, 2017 (Sanders
grievance). After receiving responses from the Respondent in
both grievances, the Complainant opened a formal
investigation into each one. The Complainant met with the
Respondent several times to discuss the grievances.
Thereafter, it filed its formal Complaint against the
Respondent on September 17, 2018. The Respondent initially
represented herself and entered an appearance and filed her
Answer. Thereafter she hired an attorney to represent her.
During the course of investigating the Sanders grievance the
Complainant discovered information concerning another similar
case. The Complainant then opened a grievance against the
Respondent in this new matter concerning Respondent's
former clients Cornel and Sharon Solis (Solis grievance). It
also filed a Supplemental Complaint on December 21, 2018,
containing these new allegations of misconduct.
Respondent's attorney answered the Supplemental
The Professional Responsibility Tribunal (PRT) held a hearing
concerning these grievances pursuant to Rule 6, RGDP which
occurred on two separate days; March 14, 2019 and March 25,
2019. In closing argument, the Complainant recommended the
Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one
year. On June 13, 2019, the Trial Panel filed its report
wherein it found the allegations of the Complaint and
Supplemental Complaint had been established by clear and
convincing evidence. Even after considering all the
mitigating factors the Trial Panel unanimously recommended a
longer suspension of eighteen months. This matter was
assigned to this office on August 19, 2019.
Standard of Review
In Bar disciplinary proceedings, this Court possesses
exclusive original jurisdiction. State ex rel. Oklahoma
Bar Ass'n v. Holden, 1995 OK 25, ¶ 10, 895 P.2d
707. Our review of the evidence is de novo in determining if
the Bar proved its allegations of misconduct by clear and
convincing evidence. Rule 6.12(c), RGDP; State ex rel.
Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Bolusky, 2001 OK 26, ¶ 7,
23 P.3d 268. Clear and convincing evidence is that measure or
degree of proof which produces in the mind of the trier of
fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the
allegations sought to be established. State ex rel.
Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Green, 1997 OK 39, ¶5,
936 P.2d 947. Our goals in disciplinary proceedings are to
protect the interests of the public and to preserve the
integrity of the courts and the legal profession, not to
punish the offending lawyers. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar
Ass'n v. Kinsey, 2009 OK 31, ¶15, 212 P.3d
1186. Discipline is administered to preserve the public
confidence in the bar and to deter an attorney from similar
future misconduct. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n
v. Phillips, 2002 OK 86, ¶21, 60 P.3d 1030. Whether
to impose discipline is a decision that rests solely with
this Court and the recommendations of the PRT are neither
binding nor persuasive. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar
Ass'n v. Eakin, 1995 OK 106, ¶ 8, 914 P.2d 644.
Count I. The Murcia Grievance
The first grievance was filed by Claudia Murcia (Murcia).
Murcia is from El Salvador, and English is not her first
language. The record reflects she uses a translator when
communicating at all relevant times related to her grievance.
In 2009, Murcia worked at a hotel in Norman, Oklahoma. In
February of that year she was injured while riding a public
bus to work. Her injuries required medical treatment and she
incurred several medical bills. Murcia had health insurance
at the time but chose not to file these tort-related claims
with her insurance. She hired Michael Sherrod (Sherrod) to
represent her in this personal injury matter. Sherrod filed a
petition on February 11, 2011 against the State of Oklahoma
ex rel. University of Oklahoma, Cleveland Area Rapid Transit,
and the bus driver.  Since this tort claim involved a
governmental entity the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act
(OGTCA) applied. Sherrod, however, filed the petition within
two years from the date of the accident rather than under the
provisions of the OGTCA.  Sherrod testified he realized he
had missed the statute of limitations when the opposing side
filed a motion to dismiss and thereafter he immediately
informed Murcia he had missed the statute of limitations.
Murcia hired the Respondent in January 2012 hoping she could
proceed with her case. Murcia testified that Sherrod had
informed her that the statute of limitations had run prior to
hiring the Respondent and that she informed the Respondent of
this at their first meeting.  The Respondent testified
Murcia had not informed her that the statute of limitations
had run but told her only that her attorney could not
prosecute her case any longer and was ill.  The
Respondent testified she would not have taken Murcia's
case had she known the statute of limitations had run.
The Respondent reviewed the petition online and determined
nothing on its face seemed out of order, so she proceeded
with the representation. She first filed an application for
leave to make service out of time which was quickly
challenged by a motion to vacate. Not long afterwards, the
opposing counsel filed a motion to dismiss. The opposing
counsel also sent the Respondent a letter with an attached
proposed motion for sanctions which she would file if the
Respondent did not dismiss the action.  On September 10,
2012, the Respondent dismissed the action by filing a
dismissal without prejudice. 
Following the dismissal, the Respondent helped negotiate a
settlement between Murcia and Sherrod for any malpractice
Sherrod may have made in her case. The goal was to see if
Sherrod could compensate Murcia for his failure to timely
file her petition, and any money received from him could be
used to pay Murcia's medical bills. The Respondent agreed
to help Murcia with these matters. Her contract with Murcia
only concerned the tort action.  There is no evidence
of a subsequent contract after the tort action was dismissed.
In her January 17, 2017 response to the grievance, the
Respondent wrote "at this point [after the case was
dismissed], I realized this case is going to be done pro-bono
and was in fact an attempt to help a colleague to keep from
obtaining a bar complaint and a lawsuit against him."
 She later testified that even though
she realized there would be no recovery, she did not tell
Murcia she would represent her pro-bono on these additional
On or about July 25, 2014, Sherrod settled with Murcia by
providing her a quit claim deed thereby transferring land he
owned in Pittsburgh County, Oklahoma.  Murcia authorized
the Respondent to sell the land on her behalf and to apply
the proceeds to her outstanding medical bills.  Sherrod
gave the Respondent's name to a potential purchaser, Mr.
Stuart, who was interested in buying Sherrod's land.
 Mr. Stuart contacted the Respondent
and they negotiated a sale of the land.  Murcia agreed and
the property was sold on March 29, 2015 for $4, 600.00 in
cash.  On the same day, Murcia signed and
presented a release of all claims to Sherrod which was
prepared by the Respondent.  Murcia's total
medical bills were $12, 084.95 which exceeded the amount of
the proceeds from the sale. The Respondent agreed to
negotiate with the providers/collection agencies to reduce
the bills.  The largest bill was to Therapy in
Motion in the amount of $5, 691.50 for physical therapy.
 TekCollect, a collection agency, was
authorized to collect this bill in December 2014 and began
contacting Murcia around that time.  Other providers
had been pursuing collection efforts as well.  These
efforts, including Therapy in Motion's efforts to collect
Murcia's debt, had begun prior to the sale of the land.
After the March 29, 2015 sale took place, the Respondent took
the $4, 600.00 cash proceeds and placed them in a safe at her
law office.  Murcia did not ask for the money
because she wanted the Respondent to negotiate and reduce her
bills to the amount of the sale proceeds and use that money
to pay those bills.  This was their agreement and she
trusted the Respondent to do this.  The Respondent
had an Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) at the time
she placed the money in her safe.  She testified she was
confused as to what to do with cash.  She was not
accustomed to getting cash, and she thought she would be
safekeeping the money by just placing it in her safe.
Murcia continued receiving calls from collection agencies
regarding these medical bills.  In 2016, for
approximately five months she tried to get proof from the
Respondent that her bills had been paid. 
Murcia's grievance alleged that the Respondent kept
"putting off sending me them [proof of payment of her
medical bills]."  The record reflects that in
December 2016 Murcia and the Respondent corresponded over
several days via a series of text messages.  An
excerpt of those messages is as follows:
Date unknown presumably early December 2016:
Murcia: Ms. Laurie sorry for bothering you it's just that
I'm worried about my case. It has been more than 2 months
since you told me the case was closed and I still haven't
received any proof that the case was truly closed. Or is
there something happening I don't know of in the case?
Respondent: It's over I just have been swamped!
Murcia: When will I receive the papers for sure? Or will I
pick them up at your office?
Respondent: Next Monday.
Murcia: Okay I will be expecting them next Monday thank you.
Sorry for bothering you.
Monday, December 12, 2:38 PM.
Murcia: Ms. Laurie please don't forget you were going to
send me the papers today by email
Respondent: All I have is the check that says paid in
full-it's at my accountants office- she is going to send
me a copy of it.
December 12, 4:25 PM.
Murcia: When will you send it to me?
Respondent: Yes as soon as I get it from her.
Murcia: Okay what is left to finish this case? I want to be
done with all of this.
Respondent: It's done. The last bill to be paid was the
PT bill and we settle for what was paid on the land-can't
even remember the amount now.
Murcia: I just want proof that everything is paid for....
December 16, 8:41 AM and repeated again at 2:14 PM.
Murcia: Good morning. I am frustrated that I can't get
concrete answers or proof of how my case is going and that is
something I should be kept up to date in. If by Tuesday I
haven't received anything from you I will go the
December 19, 10:03 AM.
Murcia: Are you going to send the proofs today yes or no?
Respondent: Yes. I haven't been in the office since
Murcia: Okay send it to me by email please.
Respondent: Ok- I will be in this afternoon.
Murcia: Ok thank you.
December 19, 4:05 PM.
Murcia: Please Ms Laurie don't forget the copies before
you leave your office.
Respondent: It's a check to TekCollect on 7-22-16- we are
trying to find a copy of the check- the accountant has all my
stuff. It was the amount of the check for the sale of the
Murcia: Send it to me asap please.
In Murcia's May 2017 reply letter, she attaches
additional text messages between her and the Respondent.
 In those text messages Murcia asks
about the other medical bills besides the one to Therapy in
Motion. The Respondent unequivocally states "we already
paid those." In another text message Murcia asks for
"proof that all the places are paid and that the case is
closed." The Respondent replied "[o]k...I don't
have any releases but I can give you copies of checks...I put
paid in full on checks. Sorry I haven't sent them. I was
crazy swamped before I left. I will email the checks to
you." No checks were ever emailed to Murcia. The
Respondent later testified she had never seen a check that
said "paid in full."  These texts also
include the Respondent telling Murcia she had filed a lawsuit
against Therapy in Motion. The lawsuit was premised upon new
case law that held a provider was prohibited from choosing
not to file an insurance claim. No lawsuit was ever filed.
Murcia is desperately trying to receive proof that after over
a year since the Respondent received the $4, 600.00 her
medical bills have been negotiated and paid. These text
messages clearly show the Respondent is telling her that not
only has the PT bill been paid, which is the bill from
Therapy in Motion and being collected by TekCollect, but it
was the last one and "[i]t's done." She is
clearly indicating to her client that all her medical bills
have been paid. She even tells Murcia on a specific date,
July 22, 2016, she paid the amount owed to TekCollect by
check. The Respondent's later excuse for not sending her
a copy of the check is that it is with her accountant. This
is so even though she had previously indicated to Murcia that
she had multiple checks and was going to email them to her.
On December 23, 2016, without receiving any proof that her
bills had been paid, Murcia filed a grievance with the
On January 17, 2017, the Respondent replied to the grievance.
 In approximately one month from the
date of these last text messages, the Respondent's story
has changed from what she told Murcia. She tells the
Complainant that she had to pay the Therapy in Motion bill
with a credit card on her operating account and therefore she
did not have a receipt. This assertion contradicts her story
to Murcia that she paid it with a check on July 22, 2016. She
further claims her bank account had been purged due to
identity theft, and she could not get a copy of her bank
statement. In addition and without providing any context, she
mentions that a lien placed on Murcia's case by Therapy
in Motion had been released. Her letter concludes that Murcia
"never advised me she was going to file a bar
complaint." However, Murcia clearly warned her in the
text messages that she would file a grievance if she did not
receive the information she needed; "I will go to
On February 2, 2017, Debbie Maddox (Maddox), the OBA
Assistant General Counsel, emailed the Respondent requesting
a copy of the credit card receipt or statement showing the
payment to Therapy in Motion. This was not provided so Maddox
sent the Respondent a follow-up letter on March 31, 2017
warning her if she did not provide this information within
five days she would upgrade this matter to a full
disciplinary investigation.  In her response, the
Respondent states the credit card payment was made in
September 2015 and her account was closed due to identity
theft during that period.  Additionally, she
claims to have contacted Therapy in Motion but they had no
record of the payment, and she claims TekCollect did not
report the payment to Therapy in Motion. She also claims on
numerous occasions she told Murcia there was not enough money
from the sale to pay all the bills. She blames a language
barrier as the reason for Murcia's misunderstanding and
claims she tried to have an interpreter with her when they
met but that was not always possible. This point was strongly
contested by Murcia. Murcia had always brought either her
daughter or her husband to any meeting she had with the
Respondent, and they understand and speak English.
 Her letter also curiously states
that when the property was sold to Mr. Stuart he paid with a
"money order" which was clearly not the case; it
was paid in cash and the Respondent had actually signed the
receipt and marked it as paid in cash.  Ex. 25.
On April 14, 2017, Maddox opened this matter for formal
investigation.  In her May 3, 2017 response, the
Respondent provided more detailed information.  She
claims the sale of the property to Mr. Stuart occurred in
September 2015, the same time frame she is claiming she paid
Therapy in Motion with a credit card. However, all the
evidence in the record, the receipt from the sale, the deeds
conveyed, clearly indicate the sale occurred on March 29,
2015.  She explains that in 2016 she
threatened suit against Therapy in Motion based upon new case
law but later realized it was not applicable to Murcia so the
lawsuit was not filed. Afterwards, she claims Murcia only
wanted "some of her bills paid." The Respondent
focused on Therapy in Motion because it was the only provider
that had a lien on file. She alleged Therapy in Motion agreed
to take $4, 600.00 and the Respondent was required to pay
this amount with a credit card; she did not have a credit
card on her trust account so she deposited the money into her
operating account and paid with the operating account's
credit card. Following her statement about making this
payment she writes "[t]he lien on her case was
released." However, the lien she is referring to had
nothing to do with any payment made on Murcia's behalf.
 The lien filed by Therapy in Motion
was originally made August 2, 2010.  It was later
amended on December 12, 2011 and named the Department of
Central Services as an insurance company.  On
December 4, 2012, the lien was released and stated
"payment was received by the undersigned [Therapy in
Motion]." This lien release occurred over two years
before the sale of the property (March 29, 2015). Therefore,
it would be impossible for the Respondent to understand that
the sale proceeds were somehow responsible for Therapy in
Motion releasing its lien. But that is clearly her
implication in her response to the Complainant.
 At the PRT hearing a former employee
of Therapy in Motion testified that the lien release was made
due to the State informing them that no lien could be placed
upon the State.  The reason the lien release said
payment had been received was due to the use of a standard
form and that statement was in error.  Representatives
from both Therapy in Motion and TekCollect testified that no
payments of any kind had ever been received on behalf of
Murcia.  The representative from TekCollect
acknowledged the Respondent's efforts to reduce
Murcia's bill, but TekCollect informed her it would not
take less than eighty percent of the amount owed.
 Still no payment was ever made.
The Respondent further explained to the Complainant that her
identity was stolen during August through October of 2015,
the period she claims she paid TekCollect with a credit card.
 She claims her account was closed
and was purged from her bank's system. She also claims
she advised Murcia of this and then attempted to contact her
accountant but found out her accountant had died and there
was no way to get these records. When she contacted Therapy
in Motion they no longer had Murcia's file in their
system. She again claims she informed Murcia numerous times
there was not enough money to pay all of her bills and blames
the language barrier for Murcia's misunderstanding. She
then tells the Complainant that Murcia has not paid any of
the attorney fees and costs they agreed to in the contract.
However, her contract with Murcia was a contingency fee
contract which states "[i]n the event of failure of
recovery, the Attorney shall claim no compensation from
Client."  It is clear the Respondent dismissed
the original lawsuit due to the statute of limitations having
already run. The record provides no evidence of any new
contract being made after the lawsuit was dismissed.
The Respondent's brief states she voluntarily provided
her bank records to the Complainant.  However, the
Complainant was forced to issue a subpoena duces tecum on
February 5, 2018 when they did not receive requested bank
account records.  The subpoena covered all bank
accounts of the Respondent including her IOLTA and operating
account as well as personal accounts.  The records from
the bank covered the period from January 1, 2014 to February
5, 2018.  The bank also wrote the OBA
investigator explaining the Respondent's law firm
business account was "charged off" from March 20,
2015 to March 14, 2016 and is currently active after that
period.  The letter states the term
"charged off" means the account was overdrawn for
more than thirty days and was automatically closed. During
this period, no activity could occur on that account.
However, the Respondent told the Complainant she paid the
Therapy in Motion bill with a credit card in September 2015
which was during this period.  The letter from the
bank to the OBA investigator does not specify if identity
theft was involved. Regardless of whichever account she could
have paid from, the OBA investigator testified none of her
accounts showed a deposit of $4, 600.00 or any payments made
to cover Murcia's bills. 
At the PRT hearing, the Respondent was questioned about her
different explanations as to how Murcia's bills were
paid. In one instance she told Murcia she paid by a check on
a certain date but then told the Complainant she paid with a
credit card on a different date. Her response was that those
statements might be interpreted as inconsistencies but they
were not anything that would require "that that is not
the truth."  The assistant general counsel then
asked her, "one of these statements, or both, are false,
are they not" to which she replied "[t]hey were not
false at the time I made them."  When asked about
her communications to Murcia concerning the supposed July 22,
2016 check payment she responded "I was truthful in what
I told her at the time I made the message."
 The Respondent acknowledged there
was no check or credit card payment.  Her testimony
also reflected she was hoping the OBA could find evidence of
a payment in one of her bank records. 
The Trial Panel members also questioned the Respondent about
the $4, 600.00 she put into her safe and why she did not just
pay Murcia when she first met with the OBA. The Respondent
testified, "[w]ell, obviously, I mean, there--there was
no money in the safe. I mean I don't know what happened
to the money during this period. I just don't know."
 She could not even remember when she
first discovered the money was missing.  She also
testified she did not inform Murcia that the money was no
longer in her safe.  The record does not reflect she
reported the missing money as stolen.
Counts II and III. The Sanders and Solis Grievances
The Respondent was hired to represent the Sanders and Solis
families in their actions against the Shawnee Public Schools.
The OGTCA was applicable to each case. In both cases Shawnee
Public Schools did not respond to the tort claim letters. The
petitions were filed on May 3, 2016. However, due to a leap
year miscalculation, they were filed one day late.
 The Respondent testified she had
worked on these cases with another attorney, Steven Crow
(Crow).  In her response to the Complainant
she stated Crow was the lead counsel, however, she admitted
at the hearing neither attorney was considered the lead
counsel and she was equally responsible for whatever happened
in those cases.  She and Crow shared responsibilities
when working on education cases, and both met with the
Sanders and Solis families together on the same day.
 Crow testified that he believed he
was the one who miscalculated the date to file the petitions.
 However, the petitions were both
prepared and signed by the Respondent and she was the one who
had them filed. 
On July 3, 2017, Shawnee Public Schools filed a motion to
dismiss in each case.  The grounds for dismissal were
clearly specified in the motions and were based on the
petitions being filed outside of the statute of limitations.
On July 20, 2017, the Respondent signed and filed a dismissal
without prejudice in each case.  She testified she did
not learn the motions were based on a failure to meet the
statute of limitations until the bar grievance was filed.
 She claims she did not read the
motions at the time she filed her dismissals; "I
don't know what I was doing at the time, but I was too
busy to stop and read the pleading."  The
Respondent's explanation was she and Crow received
motions to dismiss in about ninety percent of these education
cases and Crow would be the one to review the pleadings then
inform her of what to do, e.g., file a dismissal without
prejudice because they needed more time to get additional
information.  She testified that Crow told her to
file a dismissal, and she did not question it or ask why.
 Crow testified he believes he
ultimately made the decision to file the dismissals without
After the dismissals were filed, neither attorney notified
the Sanders or the Solis families of the dismissal. On
September 21, 2017, the Respondent sent Mr. Sanders a letter
informing him that she is closing her legal practice and
"I leave your case in good hands."  The
letter does not mention she had filed a dismissal without
prejudice in his case. The letter also indicates that she was
transferring his file to Crow. The record does not include a
similar letter to the Solis family. Both clients testified
that the Respondent never notified them of the dismissal of
their cases.  The Respondent testified that if she
had thought the dismissals had ended their cases permanently
she would have notified them.  She and Crow were also
looking at other possible theories of recovery under federal
constitutional claims therefore she did not think it was
important to provide information of the dismissal.
 However, she admits that a failure
to meet the statute of limitations would have been a critical
error to the OGTCA claims.  She now believes that
she should have notified her clients of the dismissals.
 Mr. Sanders testified that a few
months after he received the letter he decided to retain
another attorney rather than proceed with Crow.
 The new attorney is the one who
informed him that his case had been dismissed for failing to
meet the statute of limitations.  The first time the
Solis family heard their case had been dismissed was when
they were contacted by the OBA investigator. 
The Rule Violations
The Trial Panel filed its report on June 13, 2019. The report
found the Complainant had proven by clear and convincing
evidence the Respondent violated Rules 1.3 (Diligence)
, 1.4 (Communication) , 1.15
(Safekeeping Property) , 8.4(a) and (c) (Violating Rules
of Professional Conduct/Engaging in Conduct Involving
Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit or Misrepresentation)
 ORPC and Rule 1.3 (Discipline for
Acts Contrary to Prescribed Standards of Conduct)
 RGDP in the Murcia case. It also
found the Respondent violated Rules 1.1 (Competence)
, 1.3 (Diligence), 1.4
(Communication), and 8.4(a) (Violating Rules of Professional
Conduct) ORPC as well as Rule 1.3 (Discipline for Acts
Contrary to Prescribed Standards of Conduct) RGDP in both the
Sanders and Solis cases.
In the Murcia case the Respondent argues she did everything
she could for Murcia and she communicated with her at all
hours of the day without any restrictions. However, it cannot
be said she acted diligently on behalf of her client. The
Respondent testified she had even closed Murcia's file at
one point as if the case was concluded when there were
outstanding medical bills left to be paid.  For years
the bills were left unpaid and Murcia's credit report
reflected this fact.  She kept stringing Murcia along
and never gave her the information she requested. Her
communications with Murcia may have been frequent but they
were full of misrepresentations.
For conduct to constitute a Rule 8.4 (c) ORPC violation the
misrepresentation must be shown by clear and convincing
evidence that the declarant had an underlying motive, i.e.,
bad or evil intent, for making the statement. State ex
rel. Oklahoma Bar Assn' v. Johnston, 1993 OK 91,
¶16, 863 P.2d 1136. An intent element is required and
the OBA must adequately show the attorney had a purpose to
deceive. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v.
Besly, 2006 OK 18, ¶43, 136 P.3d 590. Here, the
evidence shows a clear purpose as to why the Respondent
misrepresented she had paid the providers. The $4, 600.00
sale proceeds were no longer in her safe, it just
disappeared. She never communicated this fact to Murcia. We
find clear and convincing evidence that she not only
intentionally deceived her client about the bills being paid
but she intended to deceive the Complainant as well by
repeatedly telling them at least one provider had been fully
paid. The evidence shows no provider had ever been paid and
the sale proceeds were never deposited into any bank account.
Her motive for the deception is that the money was no longer
in the safe. She could not account for what happened to it
nor could she even recall when she discovered it was no
longer there. Nor did she claim it was stolen.
It is clear that the Respondent did not safeguard this money
properly when she placed it into her safe rather than in her
IOLTA account. Rule 1.15 (a) ORPC treats funds separately
from other property. It provides that "funds shall be
kept in a separate account....Other property shall be
identified as such and appropriately safeguarded."
Comment 1 to the rule provides "[a]ll property that is
the property of clients... must be kept separate from the
lawyer's business and personal property and, if monies,
in one or more trust accounts." The money from the sale
of the property was not deposited into any bank account let
alone a client trust account.
The Complainant asserts in its brief that the
Respondent's actions constitute misappropriation of
Murcia's funds. Although the Trial Panel did not make a
specific finding of misappropriation, this Court is not bound
by the trial authority's findings or its assessments as
to weight or credibility of the evidence. State, ex rel.
Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Raskin, 1982 OK 39, ¶11,
642 P.2d 262. This Court has explained many times the three
levels of culpability regarding the mishandling of client
funds. The three levels are commingling, simple conversion,
and misappropriation. State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar
Ass'n v. Combs, 2007 OK 65, ¶13, 175 P.3d 340.
Misappropriation is the most serious offense of the three. It
is not merely simple conversion, i.e., the use of a
client's funds for a purpose other than that for which
they are intended, but additionally involves an element of
deceit and fraud. Id., ¶ ¶15-16. It occurs
when a lawyer purposefully deprives a client of money through
deceit and fraud. Id., ¶16. In State ex
rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Mayes, we held an
attorney who represented to the Court that he was holding
monies intended for two minor children when those funds had
actually been spent on him and his secretary constituted
misappropriation. 2003 OK 23, ¶¶19-22, 66 P.3d 398.
It was clear he committed simple conversion but his own
actions of deceit propelled this Court to find he committed
misappropriation. Id., ¶22. This was so even
though the Complainant did not allege misappropriation nor
was there any evidence presented that the client suffered
economic harm. Id., ¶¶ 20-21 .
The $4, 600.00 proceeds from the sale of the property were
not used for their intended purpose, i.e., to pay
Murcia's medical bills. This fact alone constitutes
simple conversion. However, the Respondent repeatedly
explained to her client and to the Complainant that the money
had been used to pay Murcia's medical bills, which was
completely false. This was not mere carelessness or
forgetfulness as the Respondent would like us to believe.
These false statements happened over a period of time in
which she could have corrected any errors in her statements.
The disappearance of the sale proceeds combined with the
Respondents many misrepresentations provide clear and
convincing evidence that she purposefully deprived her client
of money through deceit and fraud. We find her actions
We hold the Complainant has proven by clear and convincing
evidence the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.15, 8.4
(a) and (c), ORPC and Rule 1.3, RGDP.
Rule 1.1, ORPC, requires a lawyer to "provide competent
representation to a client." In both the Sanders and
Solis grievances, the Respondent failed to file their
lawsuits timely under the OGTCA. This was due to a leap year
miscalculation, and she did not check the filing date
calculated by Crow prior to filing the petitions. When her
office received the motions to dismiss in each case she did
not read them to determine the grounds for the motions. She
instead just filed a dismissal without prejudice in both
cases. She never informed her clients of the motions to
dismiss nor of the dismissals without prejudice. Her clients
had to find out from other attorneys that their cases were
dismissed. She claims she would have told her clients of the
dismissals had she known the petitions were actually filed
out of time. If she had read the motions to dismiss she would
have realized this, however, she testified she was too busy
to do that. Her actions show a lack of diligence and failure
to communicate with her clients. She did not provide
competent representation in either matter.
We hold the Complainant has proven by clear and convincing
evidence the Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3, ...