An Indianapolis lawyer who tried to continue representing clients in an immigration matter after being fired for noncommunication has been temporarily suspended from the practice of law.
The Indiana Supreme Court on Monday suspended Patricia L. Rios for 90 days, with 30 days served and the rest stayed subject to completion of at least 545 days of probation.
Rios was hired to represent clients in an immigration matter and was paid $1,035 for the representation in early 2018. But after receiving the payment, Rios ceased communication with the clients and did nothing to advance the case.
Thus, the clients in April 2019 hired another lawyer, named only as “Lawlis” in the high court’s Monday order. The only active Indiana lawyer with that name is Daniel P. Lawlis of Indianapolis, according to the Roll of Attorneys. Lawlis wrote to Rios requesting the file, but Rios instead filed two immigration forms on the clients’ behalf with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. USCIS responded by sending another form to Rios with an incorrect birthdate for one of the clients, but Rios failed to correct the error.
Rios also did not inform the clients about the USCIS filings, but they later learned of that development. They then sent a letter expressly firing Rios and demanding that she withdraw her appearance before the USCIS, but she did not. Lawlis eventually obtained the file and learned that the documents submitted to USCIS were inaccurate and incomplete. Despite Lawlis’ efforts, the clients had to pay a second filing fee to submit corrected forms.
“Respondent also did not adequately supervise or communicate with her office staff who were fielding inquiries from Clients and Lawlis,” according to the Monday order.
Pursuant to an agreement between Rios and the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, the parties agreed she violated seven Rules of Professional Conduct, including:
- Rule 1.1, failing to provide competent representation.
- Rule 1.3, failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness.
- Rule 1.4(a)(3), failing to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter.
- Rule 1.4(a)(4), failing to comply promptly with a client’s reasonable requests for information.
- Rule 1.16(a)(3), failing to withdraw from representation after being discharged.
- Rule 5.3(b), failure to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of a nonlawyer employee over whom the lawyer has direct supervisory authority is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.
- Rule 8.4(c), engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
The executed portion of Rios’ sentence will begin June 1. The parties agreed to three terms of probation:
- Rios cannot violate any Rules of Professional Conduct during her 545 days of probation.
- Rios must complete 12 hours of CLE “dealing with solo or small firm practice management during her probation.”
- If Rios violates the terms of her probation, she will be required to serve the balance of her stayed suspension without automatic reinstatement.
“Respondent shall not undertake any new legal matters between service of this order and the effective date of the suspension, and Respondent shall fulfill all the duties of a suspended attorney under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(26),” according to the disciplinary agreement. “Notwithstanding the expiration of the minimum term of probation set forth above, Respondent’s probation shall remain in effect until it is terminated pursuant to a petition to terminate filed under Admission and Discipline Rule 23(16).”
Rios was also assessed $270.95 for the costs of the proceeding, with $20 payable to the commission and $250 payable to the clerk of the court. The expenses of the hearing officer will be submitted separately.
Monday’s discipline in the case of In the Matter of: Patricia L. Rios, 20S-DI-312, is Rios’ third disciplinary action.
She was publicly reprimanded in March 2020 after her immigration client sued her in small claims court after a refund check for unearned services bounced.
A third disciplinary case was filed and dismissed in 2017.