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There are some matters so serious that mitigating factors will seldom override the requirement of substantial discipline. Offenses against common honesty should be clear, even to the youngest lawyers; and to distinguished practitioners, their grievousness should be even clearer. Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of the legal profession. Nothing reflects more negatively upon the profession than deceit.
This disciplinary proceeding arises from Allford's representation of a single client. Richard Mackey paid Allford $ 750 on March 30, 1992, to probate his mother's and father's estates. The probate was not completed by October 16, 2001, when Mackey terminated Allford's services by a letter in which he stated that she "had failed to keep appointments or return phone calls to review and discuss the completion of the case." Allford would not return the file and persuaded Mackey to let her attempt to finish the matter. The probate remained incomplete on January 24, 2003, when Mackey sent another letter terminating Allford and asking for the return of the file. Once again, Allford refused to return the file and persuaded Mackey to allow her to complete the case. Mackey filed a written grievance with the Bar on April 9, 2004. The Bar opened a formal investigation and sent a letter to Allford on April 27, 2004, asking her to respond to Mackey's allegations within twenty days. When she finally responded on June 1, 2004, Allford did not respond to the allegations, but stated only that she had been unable to contact Mackey. Bar sent Allford a second letter by certified mail on June 9, 2004, and directed her to respond to Mackey's allegations within five days. Although Allford received the letter on July 1, 2004, she did not respond until Tuesday, July 20, 2004. She still did not respond to the allegations, but stated that she has met with Mackey and he “desires that I continue with the probate case on his parents.” At this point, the Bar issued a subpoena for Allford's deposition, to take place at the Oklahoma Bar Center on July 29, 2004, at 9:00 a.m. Allford did not appear. Instead, she called the Assistant General Counsel, Mike Speegle, at approximately 9:20 a.m. on the day of her scheduled deposition and stated that she did not appear at the appointed time because Mackey did not want her to. Although Allford eventually did appear by agreement for her deposition, troubling facts surfaced about the events surrounding her receipt of the subpoena. Employees at the Hughes County Sheriff's office called Allford when they received the subpoena. Allford came to the Sheriff's office and accepted personal service on Friday, July 23, 2004, at 8:00 a.m. However, she asked two of the Sheriff's employees to falsify the date of service to show that it was not served until 8:00 a.m. on July 29th (the date of the scheduled deposition). Because she assured them that the "matter would be dropped and that it wasn't a big deal," the employees honored her request. They admitted their role in the deception when the Bar called the Sheriff's office on the morning of the 28th (the day before the scheduled deposition) to confirm that Allford had been served with the subpoena.
The Bar filed a formal complaint on September 24, 2004. When Allford filed her response on November 15, 2004, she attached Mackey's affidavit stating that he wished to withdraw his grievance and continue the probate with Allford as his attorney. The disciplinary matter was continued several times and Allford finally completed the probate sometime in 2005. When the hearing before the Professional Responsibility Tribunal (PRT) convened, Allford formally stipulated to the Bar's allegations, admitting that she had repeatedly refused to return Mackey's file and that she had asked the Sheriff's employees to falsify the service date on the subpoena. Allford's testimony, however, differed materially from her stipulations. Although she repeatedly affirmed the truth of the stipulations and stated that "I accept full responsibility," and "I was dilatory," her responses to specific questions by the panel members were less apologetic and full of inconsistencies between her stated desire to accept full responsibility and her efforts to deflect any real culpability by admitting only to "mistakes." Allford began by attributing the situation to the complexity of the probate case and her lack of skill. She then attributed her failure to keep appointments with Mackey to simple miscommunication and lack of a full-time secretary. Finally, she implied that she failed to return phone calls because Mackey would "call right back" after she had already explained "things" to him. Allford's testimony contained so many internal inconsistencies that it was apparent she was not willing to admit to any of the facts underlying the stipulations. Allford's testimony upon being confronted is equally troubling. The Bar requested a private reprimand. The PRT unanimously recommended that she receive a public reprimand.
Should Allford be given a public reprimand?
The Court is inexorably drawn to the conclusion that even a public censure is insufficient in this matter. The primary problem is no longer Allford's dilatory representation of her client; it is her refusal to acknowledge the Bar's and this Court's authority to oversee her practice and investigate a complaint against her. Allford has failed to accept any real responsibility for her actions. Even the dry, written transcript of her testimony before the PRT displays a degree of irritation toward the Bar and the disciplinary process at odds with the respect demanded of those permitted to practice law in this state. Allford was clearly saying whatever was necessary to get through the process and go on. The record provides no basis for concluding that Allford's behavior and attitude will improve if she is allowed to continue her legal practice without interruption. Moreover, the facts of Allford's misconduct bring into question her professional judgment and expose an attitude of misplaced irritation and a habit of ignoring a growing problem in hopes that it will simply disappear. These characteristics are at odds with the mature, thoughtful, and professional approach to any matter required of attorneys. Disciplinary cases involving attorneys who have deliberately falsified or caused others to falsify sworn legal documents are not common, but certain cases provide guidance regarding the appropriate discipline. In In re Reinstatement of Jones, 2006 OK 33, 142 P.3d 380, the Court considered the reinstatement of an attorney who had resigned pending disciplinary proceedings. One of the two grievances involved behavior that led to her plea of guilty to the "misdemeanor crime of Falsely Performing a Notorial Act." That attorney left the practice of law voluntarily, not because of discipline meted out by this Court, but her absence from the legal profession is a good measure of the seriousness with which this Court and the Bar should view the willful misuse of the legal process. In contrast to the attorney in Pacenza, another similar disciplinary case, Allford has never before received any formal discipline. Her behavior, although unacceptable, did not result in a client or a member of the public suffering a legal or financial loss. Indeed, the attempted stipulations, however clumsy, reflected her effort to avoid having others lose their jobs because of her actions.