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In Re Tamla T. Scott

May 12, 2011

IN RE TAMLA T. SCOTT, RESPONDENT.


A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Bar Registration No. 496724)

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

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDNs 135-07 and 089-08)

Argued March 28, 2011

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.

In this case, we consider the Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility ("Board") with respect to two matters that the Board consolidated. Both matters concern respondent Tamla T. Scott, a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia. The first is a reciprocal matter based on disciplinary action by the North Carolina Bar, and the second is an original matter arising out of respondent's conduct in connection with her application for admission to the District of Columbia Bar ("D.C. Bar"). The Board concluded that respondent violated multiple Rules of Professional Responsibility, and recommends as a sanction that she be suspended for two years, with a requirement to prove fitness as a condition of reinstatement. While respondent has not taken exception to the Board's recommendation, Bar Counsel objects, arguing that respondent should instead be disbarred. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that a three-year suspension with a fitness requirement is the appropriate sanction.

I.

Neither respondent (who has not participated in the proceedings before the court) nor Bar Counsel challenges the Board's findings of fact, which we summarize as follows. Before applying for admission to the D.C. Bar, respondent had been a practicing attorney in North Carolina for ten years. In the summer of 2005, she moved to the District of Columbia and provided a Maryland forwarding address to the North Carolina State Bar. On August 30, 2005, she signed her application for admission to the D.C. Bar, applying as a "member in good standing" of another Bar and stating in a sworn declaration, "I have read the foregoing document and have answered all the questions fully and frankly."

Question 10A on the D.C. Bar application asked whether respondent had "ever been disbarred, suspended, censured, or otherwise reprimanded or disqualified as an attorney," to which she answered "[y]es," and Question 10B asked whether she had "ever been the subject of any charges, complaints, or grievances (formal or informal) concerning [her] conduct as an attorney, including any now pending," to which she answered, "No." Respondent explained on the application that she had been reprimanded by the North Carolina State Bar in 2003 "for failing to timely respond to a Grievance," further noting that the grievance was "ultimately dismissed."*fn1

The Board agreed with the Hearing Committee that respondent's negative answer to Question 10B was "literally wrong," but found it not misleading "in light of her disclosure of the February 2003 reprimand in response to Question 10A."

By letter dated September 22, 2005, this court's Committee on Admissions ("COA") sent respondent a letter acknowledging receipt of her application for admission to the D.C. Bar. In the letter, the COA notified respondent of her obligation to "inform the Committee by letter of any change in address, employment, or any other circumstance (e.g., bar admissions, disciplinary matters, civil and criminal litigation, credit problems, etc.)." Respondent received the letter, and later acknowledged that it placed her on notice of her duty to update the COA while her application for admission was pending. On February 21, 2006, the COA sent respondent a Supplemental Questionnaire, which asked whether there were "any charges or complaints now pending concerning your conduct as an attorney, as a member of any other profession or as a holder of any public office," to which respondent replied, "No." On March 6, 2006, respondent submitted her signed and sworn response to the questionnaire to the COA and was sworn in as a member of the D.C. Bar.

In the meantime, before respondent was sworn in to the D.C. Bar, she had become the subject of four disciplinary grievances in North Carolina. Each grievance involved the same general pattern: a client retained respondent to represent him or her in a family law matter, paid respondent from $675 to $1,675 in legal fees, and then failed to hear from respondent again.*fn2 In the first case, in May 2005, respondent's client Jennifer Goodman filed a Petition for Resolution of Disputed Fees with the North Carolina State Bar, a petition that ripened into a disciplinary grievance on October 5, 2005, after respondent had failed to respond. However, respondent neither notified the COA of the pending Goodman grievance in compliance with her ongoing obligation to "inform the Committee by letter of any . . . disciplinary matters," nor disclosed the grievance in her response to Question 5 of the Supplemental Questionnaire.

In September 2005, three of respondent's other clients, Trina White, Andrea Smith, and Jeffrey Porter, filed fee dispute petitions against her. When respondent failed to respond, their petitions became disciplinary grievances as well. Respondent was aware of the outstanding fee dispute petitions in White, Smith, and Porter during the time her application for admission to the D.C. Bar was pending before the COA. She also knew that failure to respond to the petitions would result in the filing of disciplinary grievances,*fn3 and, indeed, the North Carolina State Bar opened three additional grievance cases based on respondent's failure to respond to the Smith, White and Porter fee dispute petitions. Between December 2005 and February 2006, the North Carolina Bar attempted to serve respondent with these grievances by certified mail, but the letters were continually returned as "unclaimed."*fn4 On April 3, 2006, approximately a month after she was admitted to the D.C. Bar, respondent was served in person with the North Carolina State Bar's February 1, 2006 letter about the White, Smith, and Porter grievances.

On March 10, 2008, the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar found that respondent had violated North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3 (diligence);

1.4 (a)(3) (failure to keep client reasonably informed); 1.4 (a)(4) (failure to communicate); 1.16 (d) (failure to return unearned fees); 1.5 (f) (failure to ...


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