IN RE THOMAS FORTUNE FAY, RESPONDENT. A Member of the Bar of the Court of Appeals of Columbia District (Bar Registration No. 23929)
Argued October 28, 2014.
John Vail, with whom John W. Karr was on the brief, for respondent.
H. Clay Smith, III, Assistant Bar Counsel, with whom Wallace E. Shipp, Jr., Bar Counsel, Jennifer P. Lyman, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, and Jelani C. Lowery, Senior Staff Attorney, were on the brief, for the Office of Bar Counsel.
Before THOMPSON and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.
On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility
After an extensive hearing, a Hearing Committee (Committee), concluded that, in the circumstances presented, respondent Thomas Fortune Fay entered into an attorney-client relationship with complainant Charles Carter at the request of a lawyer who was not licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia. The Board on Professional Responsibility (Board) approved the Committee's findings and conclusions and recommends that respondent receive an informal admonition for violating several Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) relating to that attorney-client relationship. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we agree.
After investigation and review of Mr. Carter's complaint, Bar Counsel, on March 22, 2010, filed allegations of multiple violations of the Rules against respondent. For reasons attributable to both parties, the hearings were delayed until September 14, 2011. After denying a variety of procedural contentions raised by respondent, the Committee made findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Committee found that in 1996, Mr. Carter suffered injuries in an automobile accident in the District of Columbia. Mr. Carter retained attorney Joel Chasnoff to represent him in a personal injury case arising out of the accident. Mr. Chasnoff was admitted to practice law in Maryland and the District, but his bar membership in the District had been suspended for his failure to pay dues. Although the retainer agreement did not authorize any other attorney to represent Mr. Carter, Mr. Chasnoff informed Mr. Carter that he would need to enlist local counsel if the matter proceeded to trial.
Mr. Chasnoff asked respondent to sign his name to and file a complaint in the case because his bar membership in the District was inactive. On June 14, 1999, respondent's paralegal and Mr. Chasnoff's secretary filed the complaint in the Superior Court. The complaint listed respondent and Mr. Chasnoff as attorneys. Because Mr. Chasnoff failed to serve the defendant with the complaint the case was dismissed on September 3, 1999. After receiving notice of the dismissal, respondent filed a
motion to reinstate the case and for leave to make substituted service. The motion was denied. A second motion was denied without prejudice. Mr. Chasnoff was subsequently disbarred ...