IN RE JUAN LORENZO RODRIGUEZ-QUESADA, RESPONDENT. A Suspended Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Bar Registration No. 487484)
Argued May 21, 2015
Melvin G. Bergman for respondent.
Jelani C. Lowery, Senior Staff Attorney, with whom Wallace E. Shipp, Jr., Bar Counsel, Jennifer P. Lyman, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, and Traci M. Tait, Assistant Bar Counsel, were on the brief, for the Office of Bar Counsel.
Before EASTERLY and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.
On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility.
The Board on Professional Responsibility concluded that respondent Juan Lorenzo Rodriguez-Quesada violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct during his representation of several clients in immigration matters. The Board recommends that this court suspend Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada for two years and, as a condition of reinstatement, require Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada to pay restitution to all but one of the affected clients. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada challenges the conclusions of the Board as to many of the rule violations and also argues that any suspension should be brief. The Office of Bar Counsel defends the Board's findings of rule violations and the imposition of a two-year suspension, but argues that this court should condition reinstatement on a showing of fitness and payment of restitution to all of the affected clients. We accept the Board's findings and conclude that Mr. Rodriquez-Quesada should be suspended for two years, with reinstatement conditioned on a showing of fitness and payment of restitution to all of the affected clients.
The Board's report and recommendation rests on the following factual conclusions, which the Board largely adopted from the factual findings of the Hearing Committee.
Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada became a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1975 and of the Bar of the District of Columbia in 2005. From 2003 through 2008, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada practiced immigration law. During that period, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada handled from 400 to 500 immigration cases. The disciplinary proceedings in this case focus on four specific matters, which we discuss in turn.
In August 2006, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada agreed to represent Hector Abarca, an El Salvadoran national, in connection with Mr. Abarca's effort to renew a work permit. Specifically, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada signed a retainer agreement in which he agreed to file an asylum application, an application for relief under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), and an application for cancellation of removal. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada did not explain the retainer agreement or his case strategy to Mr. Abarca. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada did little work on the case between August 2006 and February 2007. At an initial court hearing in February 2007, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada told an immigration judge that Mr. Abarca was seeking cancellation of removal. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada had not obtained information necessary to make such a request and never did so, despite having been told to do so by the immigration judge.
Proceedings in the matter were continued until January 2008. During this time, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada had little contact with Mr. Abarca except to obtain payment. When Mr. Abarca or his wife asked about the status of the case, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada got angry, was discourteous, and threatened to withdraw if they questioned what he was doing. In October 2007, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada filed an application for temporary protected status, but Mr. Abarca was not eligible for temporary protected status. Moreover, the application Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada filed was missing essential information.
In December 2007, the immigration authorities sent Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada two notices that Mr. Abarca should appear for proceedings in January 2008. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada did not send those notices to Mr. Abarca. In January 2008, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada filed a NACARA application and an application for cancellation of removal. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada failed to have Mr. Abarca sign those documents. In one of the applications, Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada stated that Mr. Abarca was a habitual drunkard without adequately exploring the accuracy of the statement, which could have precluded Mr. Abarca from obtaining relief.
In January 2008, the relationship between Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada and Mr. Abarca deteriorated, because Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada was insisting on additional payments, demanding that Mr. Abarca provide information of questionable relevance, and threatening to withdraw if Mr. Abarca did not comply. Mr. Abarca asked for return of his case file, but Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada refused unless Mr. Abarca paid the outstanding balance on Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada's fee. Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada returned Mr. Abarca's file only after Mr. Abarca called the police for assistance.
Mr. Abarca subsequently hired a new lawyer, who explained Mr. Abarca's options, obtained necessary information, and filed an additional petition for relief. Mr. Abarca ultimately obtained relief as result of the NACARA petition. Mr. Abarca subsequently sued Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada in small-claims court in Virginia, seeking return of fees, but did not prevail.
In January 2007, Gia Koerner-Goodrich retained Mr. Rodriguez-Quesada to obtain a certification of United States citizenship for her nephew, who was born and lived in Italy but whose mother and grandfather were United States citizens. In the retainer agreement, Ms. Koerner-Goodrich agreed to pay any necessary filing fees and ...