‘I’ve never seen anything like that’: State Supreme Court weighs discipline for divorce attorney | Courts
Prominent family law attorney Brenda L. Storey said she was wrongly punished for simply asking a client in a divorce case to pay her, and for ultimately using money from the marriage toward her bill — a common practice in such proceedings.
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, which prosecutes lawyer discipline cases, took a vastly different view of Storey’s decision to accept a $47,578.43 tax refund check — unbeknown to the husband in the case — and use it to pay her own law firm for Storey’s representation of the wife.
“Ms. Storey did not engage in the generally accepted practice,” Assistant Regulation Counsel Justin P. Moore told the Colorado Supreme Court last week. He referenced the decision of a three-member disciplinary board, which concluded Storey acted with “a selfish and dishonest motive.”
The justices heard the rare oral arguments in an attorney discipline case on June 21, in which Storey is appealing to the board’s finding of multiple violations of the rules of professional conduct. Last year, the board determined Storey had disregarded her duties to her client, Cynthia Sullivan, and concealed the existence of the Internal Revenue Service check to her client’s husband, Patrick Caldwell Sullivan.
The board’s ruling suspended Storey from the practice of law for one year plus one day.
Storey’s attorney, Michael T. McConnell, characterized the hearing board‘s decision as disciplining Storey based on the opinions of a single expert witness, with no precedent putting his client on notice that using the IRS check to pay her legal fees was unethical.
“What’s hard for me in thinking about that argument,” countered Justice Melissa Hart, “is the board, when it encounters a new set of facts, is going to adopt standards we’ve never applied before because we’ve just never heard this set of facts