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Bd. of Prof'l Responsibility v. Casper - 2014 WY 22, 318 P.3d 790

Rule:

Billing for work not done is a clear violation of Wyo. R. Prof. Conduct 1.5's prohibition of making an agreement for, charging, or collecting an unreasonable fee. A lawyer who has undertaken to bill on an hourly basis is never justified in charging a client for hours not actually expended. Any fee is excessive when absolutely no services are provided.

Facts:

Attorney Stacy E. Casper entered into a Legal Services Agreement (LSA) with her client in December 2011, and thereafter, entered her appearance on the client’s behalf in a divorce and child custody proceeding. According to the LSA, Casper would charge a minimum of 15 minutes for Client’s case, including telephone calls, except for reviewing and signing letters. The LSA also authorized Casper to file a lien on all property of the Client to secure fees and costs. The Client paid Casper a $5,000.00 retainer, and Casper represented the Client through the first day of trial on October 12, 2012. In January 2013, Casper filed a motion to withdraw because the Client had not paid her fees. On May 2013, Casper caused to be filed of record a “Lien Statement,” which indicated that her Client owed her $18,717.05. The Lien Statement identified the real property as being subject to the lien and it indicated that it was being filed pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 29-1-312. The Client’s ex-husband was the record owner of the property. Casper did not notify him or his agent or her intent to file the lien or of filing the lien. The ex-husband’s attorney contacted Casper to question the propriety of the lien, but Casper took no action to correct it. The ex-husband then filed a Complaint with the bar counsel, and the present action was initiated, contending that Casper had violated Rules 1.5 (Fees), 1.9(c) (using confidential information to the disadvantage of a former client), and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation) of the Wyoming’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law. The Board of Professional Responsibility of the Wyoming State Bar recommended for 30-day suspension for Casper.

Issue:

Should an attorney be suspended from the practice of law on the ground of violation of Wyoming’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that Casper violated Wyoming’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5. because she billed for tasks that she did not perform, billed twice for certain activity, and billed tasks already completed. Furthermore, the Court held that Casper’s act of misrepresentation in filing a lien statement constituted a violation of Wyoming’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(c) where the lien was filed under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 29-1-312, and no notice was provided. Moreover, because Casper was not entitled to the fees she claimed, and she did not file her lien in accordance with the law, her breach of client confidentiality was not justified and violated Wyoming’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.9. With all these violations, the Court determined that the recommendation for a 30-day suspension was proper; therefore, Casper was suspended from the practice of law for 30 days.

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