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In re Ifill

June 16, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN 450-99 and BDN 468-03)

Submitted May 23, 2005

Before TERRY, REID and WASHINGTON, Associate Judges.

Before us are consolidated disciplinary proceedings involving respondent Adrian P. Ifill, also known as Adrian Palmer Ifill.*fn1 One case is an original disciplinary proceeding commenced by the District of Columbia's Bar Counsel, and the other is a reciprocal discipline proceeding resulting from action taken by Maryland attorney disciplinary authorities. The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board" or "the BPR") has recommended as a sanction in the original disciplinary proceeding a one-year suspension, and restitution with interest as a condition of reinstatement. The Board recommends the identical reciprocal discipline of disbarrment in the second case. We accept the Board's recommendations.


In No. 02-BG-1264 (Bar Docket Number ("BDN") 450-99), Bar Counsel initiated an original disciplinary proceeding based on the December 1999, complaint of Mrs. Cora Britton. Mr. Ifill was charged with violations of the following District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct: 1.3,*fn2 1.4,*fn3 1.5 (a),*fn4 1.5 (b),*fn5 8.1 (a),*fn6 and 8.4 (c).*fn7 Similar or identical charges, in addition to different specifications, were filed by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission through Maryland's Bar Counsel in the second consolidated case, No. 03-BG-1487 (BDN 468-03), a reciprocal discipline case based in part on the Britton matter, and in part on Mr. Ifill's representation in a Maryland matter.*fn8 An evidentiary hearing on the District's original charges took place on March 15, 2001, before Hearing Committee No. 7, and the hearing on the merits of the Maryland charges occurred from January 6, 2003 to May 27, 2003.*fn9

The District's Hearing Committee, which heard direct testimony from Mrs. Britton, Mr. Ifill and others, made factual findings in its January 3, 2002 Report, which the Board determined were supported by substantial record evidence. Those findings show that on a periodic basis prior to 1995, Mr. Ifill handled requests for legal assistance from the Britton family, primarily Mr. Britton. After Mr. Britton died in debt, Mrs. Britton sought to collect the assets of his estate, and to pay off his debts. With the help of Mr. Britton's former employer, the United States Postal Service, Mrs. Britton received $212,000.00 in proceeds from her husband's insurance policy, as well as monthly annuity benefits. She used some of the insurance money to pay Mr. Britton's debts, and made gifts to family members. Because Mrs. Britton discovered that some of Mr. Britton's debts were paid from credit life insurance policies that covered certain of Mr. Britton's credit card and other debts, she thought that there might be other insurance assets belonging to Mr. Britton's estate. Therefore, she arranged a meeting with Mr. Ifill.

Mrs. Britton's meeting with Mr. Ifill took place in early October 1995. Mrs. Britton recounted what had been done up to that point regarding Mr. Britton's estate, and indicated that she had received $212,000.00 in insurance benefits as well as monthly annuity payments. She asked Mr. Ifill to represent her with regard to two discrete matters: (1) an effort to ascertain whether her husband's estate was entitled to other insurance payments, and (2) assistance in completing a two-page income tax election form. Mr. Ifill charged $35.00 to complete the tax form, but did not discuss his fee for the first task; nor did he execute a retainer agreement with Mrs. Britton.

Less than a week after the October 1995 meeting, Mr. Ifill requested $5,000.00 from Mrs. Britton to file four insurance claims. Mrs. Britton sent him a check for $5,000.00. In November 1995, Mrs. Britton agreed to pay Mr. Ifill an additional $5,000.00; Mr. Britton personally picked the check up from Mrs. Britton on November 9, 1995. Despite Mrs. Britton's request at that time for a retainer agreement, or written acknowledgment of her payment of $10,000.00, Mr. Ifill never presented a retainer agreement to Mrs. Britton, nor any other written acknowledgment of her payments. He again approached Mrs. Britton for money around the 23rd of November 1995; by telephone, he asked for $15,000.00, telling her she "would not 'hardly even miss this money'" because she was entitled to "a lot of money . . . from the insurance companies." Mrs. Britton refused to give Mr. Ifill any more money.

Over the next several months, Mr. Ifill did not pursue the insurance matter. Mrs. Britton was unable to communicate with him; her efforts to reach him by telephone either failed, or he cut the conversation quickly by saying he would call her back. In May 1996, Mr. Ifill wrote several letters pertaining to the quest for additional insurance funds. Within the month he received word in response to all of his letters, indicating that Mrs. Britton was due no further funds on Mr. Britton's credit life insurance policies. Mr. Ifill did not relay these responses to Mrs. Britton; her attempts to reach him between May 1996 and May 1997 were futile. Although she made voice contact with him in early June, he was non-responsive to her inquiries. Mrs. Britton demanded her money back, but Mr. Ifill hung up on her.

On July 2, 1997, Mr. Ifill wrote to Mrs. Britton. In his letter he apologized for the delay, promised to pursue the matter "vigorously," and stated that he was enclosing three checks from insurance companies. No such checks were included in the letter, and the letter in fact never was sent. Instead, Mr. Ifill returned a few checks in small amounts to insurance companies, claimed that they were "stale" and requested that the checks be reissued.

In September 1999, Mrs. Britton retained new counsel who contacted Mr. Ifill twice before receiving a response and the files in Mrs. Britton's case. Mr. Ifill promised to send Mrs. Britton an itemized statement of his services. No such statement was ever sent, but both new counsel and Mrs. Britton received copies of documents pertaining to Mrs. Britton's case from Mr. Ifill's files. Upon receiving this information, Mrs. Britton realized she had no further claims against the insurance companies. She then informed Mr. Ifill that he could keep $1,000.00 of the fees she had paid to cover the cost of the letters he had written, but she demanded the return of $9,000.00. Mr. Ifill did not return the $9,000.00 sum.

Based upon the Hearing Committee's factual findings, which the Board determined were supported by substantial record evidence, the BPR concluded in its November 12, 2002 Report that Mr. Ifill violated all of the rules set forth in the specification of charges.*fn10

Specifically, he violated Rule 1.3 in failing to pursue Mrs. Britton's claims zealously, diligently and promptly; and failing to seek the lawful objectives of the client; Rule 1.4 when he failed to keep Mrs. Britton reasonably informed about her case and further failed to explain that she had no viable claims against her husband's insurers; Rule 1.5 (a) in charging unreasonable fees for a minimal amount of work; Rule 1.5 (b) in failing to provide Mrs. Britton with a written fee agreement; Rule 8.1 (a) by making several false statements to Bar Counsel; Rule 8.4 (c) by misrepresenting to Mrs. Britton that she had viable claims against the insurers, and submitting false statements to Bar Counsel in connection with the disciplinary proceedings. The Board rejected Mr. Ifill's contentions regarding the fairness of the process, specifically his claim that he was denied access to original documents in Bar Counsel's possession and that a member of the ...

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