The Oklahoma Supreme Court has disbarred an Oklahoma City attorney accused of eight counts of professional misconduct. Michelle Renee Rowe was charged with seven counts related to specific clients’ cases, and another count alleging neglect of fiduciary responsibility. She did not appear at a Supreme Court hearing where charges against her were heard.
Under the sanction, Rowe may not seek reinstatement of her law license for five years. A trial panel of the Professional Responsibility Tribunal recommended a two year suspension, but the Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction in assessing credibility of and giving weight to evidence in bar disciplinary proceedings. The state’s high court is drew its own conclusions about appropriate sanctions, citing comparable cases where sanctions ranged from two years’ suspension up to disbarment.
Allegations detailed in the seven counts arising from particular client cases include those in which Rowe:
- Accepted $1,799 to represent clients in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition but a year later had not filed the petition. She deposited the funds in her operating account and used them for personal expenses.
- Accepted $1,499 to represent a client in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition but a year later had not filed the petition. She deposited the funds in her operating account and used them for personal expenses.
- Accepted $1,000 to represent a client in a divorce proceeding, commingled the funds with her own and used them for personal expenses.
- Accepted $1,500 to represent a client in a civil property matter, made no deposits in the client’s trust account and never filed an action or performed any work on the client’s behalf and did not refund the retainer.
- Represented a client in a divorce case that was settled in mediation, accepting $500 to draft a divorce decree which she never provided. The client retained different counsel and obtained a replevin order to recover case files, but even in response to the order, Rowe did not respond to the client’s attempt to contact her.
- Accepted $500 to file a journal entry correcting an error in child support calculations recorded in court minutes, but failed to prepare the journal entry and did not return the client’s funds. The client was unable to contact Rowe because she had abandoned her law office.
- Accepted a total of $57,320 in a divorce action but never provided a billing statement. She commingled the funds with her own operating account and used them for personal expenses. She represented the same client in a wage garnishment matter, which she neglected, resulting in a 25 percent garnishment of the client’s wages. When the client retained other counsel, Rowe refused to release files containing original documents essential to the client’s representation.
The final count incorporated the seven allegations as elements of neglect of fiduciary duties. “She had no accounting system or office policies in place that would allow her to properly review her financial information and control expenditures and deposits,” the charge alleged. Rowed did not answer the complaint against her, which resulted in the charges being deemed admitted under Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct.
Read the Supreme Court’s decision here. (http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=468295)