A Danville attorney who committed 10 acts of misconduct – including neglecting clients, advertising misleading information, mismanaging a trust account, lying and failing to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation –has been suspended from the practice of law for three years.
In the first count filed against attorney Michael Jeffries, Jeffries paid Client 1 $3,000 in exchange for Client 1’s agreement not to file a lawsuit or disciplinary action against him. The agreement came after Jeffries failed to inform the client of the defendant’s financial status – which would affect the damages portion of the case – and after he dismissed the case without Client 1’s knowledge.
Jeffries did not inform Client 1 in writing of his right to seek independent counsel to determine whether the $3,000 transaction was in Client 1’s best interest.
Similarly, Count 2 found Jeffries failed to respond, update or provide any information to Clients 2 in their September 2015 breach of contract claim. Jeffries eventually informed Clients 2 their $1,000 retainer had been exhausted and there was an outstanding balance, and requested an additional $700 retainer for future work, which Clients 2 paid.
Several months later, Jeffries told Clients 2 he would e-file a complaint. However, the clerk did not accept the complaint for filing because Jeffries’ trust account had insufficient funds to cover the filing fee. Additionally, Jeffries failed to attend four meetings scheduled with Clients 2 to sign their lawsuit.
In October 2016, Jeffries’ legal assistant told the clients the lawsuit had not been filed and suggested they hire another attorney. When the wife requested a copy of their file and went to the office to review it, Jeffries’ grabbed the papers from her hand and told her that he would mail her the file.
Clients 2 fired him later that month and requested a full refund of $2,580. In reply, Jeffries wrote:
“My contract allows me 10 business days to return your file and bill. Iam glad I returned to my office as you were taking advantage of my new secretary. Good luck in your endouver. BE AVISED THAT THIS EMAIL NOTICE: DO NOT RETURN TO MY OFFICE-TREASPASSDON’T CALL OR EMAIL MY OFFICE HARASSSMENT AND IF I FIND SLANDER OR LIBEL I WILL TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION! That includes you your husband or any releative. YOU ARE ON NOTICE!!” (sic)
Clients 2 never received their complete file or the return of any unearned fees. Jeffries’ contended he was generous in not charging them for their numerous calls to his legal assistant.
Next, Count 3 found Jeffries lied on two websites he owned by advertising his solo firm was comprised of multiple lawyers. He also lied to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission by claiming his web designer had locked him out of the sites and by claiming he had deactivated both sites.
On July 31, 2017, the commission sent Jeffries a subpoena duces tecum requesting a copy of the files for Client 1 and Clients 2. After he failed to respond, the commission filed a show causes petition, but Jeffries still did not comply.
Lastly, Count 4 found Jeffries mismanaged his trust account, with multiple multi-thousand-dollar transactions presented against insufficient funds. Jeffries used Square, Inc. to allow his clients to pay via credit card, but the Indiana Supreme Court found his use of that system failed to safeguard client funds.
On September 9, 2016, the Commission requested from Jeffries a schedule of client and non-client funds in his trust account, trust account journals of all receipts and disbursements, client ledgers and periodic monthly statements. Jeffries, however, claimed the motherboard on his computer “went out,” his “billing software was lost,” and without his “billing software records, the detailed accounting that was required of [him] was not possible.”
The commission then subpoenaed Jeffries’ trust account records and found from 2013 to 2016, he commingled either personal or business funds with the client funds in his trust account on several occasions.
The Supreme Court justices agreed with the commission that Jeffries’ conduct violated 10 professional conduct rules, including:
- Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3
- Rule 1.4(a)(3)
- Rule 1.8(a)(2)
- Rule 1.15(a)
- Rule 3.2
- Rule 7.1
- Rule 8.1(b)
- Rule 8.4(c)
- Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 23(29)(a)(2)
- Rule 23(29)(a)(5)
“Respondent’s dishonesty and neglect of clients’ cases are troubling,” the court wrote in a Tuesday per curiam opinion. “He has not accepted responsibility for his misconduct and elected not to participate in these proceedings.”
Thus, the court imposed a three-year suspension without automatic reinstatement, effective Aug. 21 Jeffries can petition for reinstatement at the end of the three years if he has paid the costs of the proceedings, fulfilled the duties of a suspended attorney and satisfied the requirements for reinstatement under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(18).
The costs of the proceeding are assessed against him. The case is In the Matter of Michael Jeffries, 18S-DI-94.