The Oklahoma Supreme Court this week suspended two attorneys for various violations of Oklahoma Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct. The license of Tulsa attorney N. Franklyn Casey was suspended for two years and a day. With 53 years of practice and no prior ethics complaints to his credit, Bixby attorney Lawrence A. G. Johnson was suspended for six months. Each was ordered to reimburse the Bar Association for costs of the proceedings, with Casey ordered to pay to $4,513 and Johnson to pay $1,182.
The sanctions involved one matter for which both Casey and Johnson were sanctioned, and another for which only Casey was sanctioned. In the first matter, Casey represented a client involved in a divorce case. Upon learning that the client’s spouse had formerly been in what might be a common law marriage with another spouse, Casey initiated a series of events that resulted in a court issuing a judgment declaring that there was no prior common law marriage.
That judgment effectively protected the client from arguments that she was already married in the current divorce proceeding. Problem was, while participating in conversations with Johnson, who had another attorney approach Casey’s client’s former partner, Casey and Johnson failed to advise clients or courts about relevant aspects of the filings.
Casey’s client’s former partner, on whose behalf Johnson sought the declaratory judgment refuting that there had been a prior common law marriage, was not specifically advised of the filing. Yet, if there were no common law marriage, the declaratory judgment could raise questions about the truthfulness of joint tax returns filed by the client and her former partner. What’s more, the client’s current spouse was not advised Casey had initiated an action in another court that could affect the divorce proceeding. Nor was the court advised that the declaratory judgment about a prior common law marriage could affect the ongoing divorce case.
In another matter, Casey was the third attorney or law firm hired to represent a plaintiff in guardianship and nursing home abuse case. Prior counsel had filed petitions that included “Attorneys Lien Claimed” but had not submitted the fee agreement for court approval.
When Casey eventually reached a settlement agreement with the defendants, he did not notify the law firm that had previously handled the case. That settlement included $30,000 for the prior law firm. That law firm then convinced a court to vacate the settlement and move the case to Okmulgee County District Court, where it had originated. The Okmulgee court found the firm entitled to more than four times as much as the Tulsa County court had awarded for attorney fees and costs.
In its opinion sanctioning Casey, the Supreme Court found that “Casey essentially took upon himself the task of arbitrating the dispute concerning the attorney lien.”
Casey failed to meet an ethical obligation to assure that interested parties were notified when they need to assert an interest pending before the court, the justices wrote.
Six justices concurred in the opinion with regard to the declaratory judgment and divorce proceeding, with Vice-Chief Justice Tom Colbert and Justice Yvonne Kauger dissenting. Justice John Reif did not participate in that decision. Colbert, Kauger and Reif alike dissented from the opinion with regard to the law firms lien.
Read the Supreme Court opinion here: Case Number: SCBD-4758; 5748