Whether in addition to being suspended for sixty days from the practice of law and paying restitution, a legal professional should also have to prove their fitness before resuming practice.
The court held that Steele be required to demonstrate her fitness for practicing law before returning to practice, as well as suspending her from the practice of law for sixty days and paying a restitution of $300.00.
The respondent Sonya D. Steele collected a $300.00 retainer fee to represent a client in a landlord-tenant case on June 8, 1990. She informed the client that all necessary papers would be prepared and served properly and later informed her client that a hearing date had been set for October 26, 1990. The respondents client tried numerous times to contact his attorney concerning his case but had no success. The client then showed up for the set hearing date only to find that the case had never been filed. He then filed a complaint about respondent Steele in small claims court. The court granted Steele’s client a $300.00 judgment, which Steele did not pay. In November of 1990, Steele’s former client filed a formal complaint with the Bar Counsel.
The Bar Counsel sent numerous mailings and personal service messages in order to inform the respondent of the pending complaint and sent a compel to answer, all which went unanswered by Ms. Steele. On May 25, 1992 Steele issues a letter to the Bar Counsel, in which, she voluntarily ceased her practice of law in the District of Columbia in June of 1991, and explained she left the Jurisdiction to attend to personal matters. The letter then expressed her apologies and stressed her wishes to make amends. The Bar Counsel then advised her of the pending case before the board, and recommended she appear before the board to explain herself; Steele did not take any further action to amend the charges or explain her conduct.
The Bar Counsel then filed a Petition Instituting Formal Disciplinary Proceedings, which charged the respondent with violations of DR 6-101 (A)(3) “neglecting a legal matter,” DR 7-101 (A)(1) “intentionally failing to seek the lawful objectives of a client,” DR 1-102 (A)(5) “engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
The court adopted the Board’s recommendations concerning sanctions under D.C. Bar R. XI, sec. 9 (g)(1992) to deal with disciplinary proceedings. The rule states, “unless to do so would foster a tendency toward inconsistent dispositions for comparable conduct or would otherwise be unwarranted.” In re Delate, 579 A.2d 1177, 1179 (D.C. 1990). To assure fairness and consistency between cases the court measured the gravity, frequency, and prior discipline, combined with any other mitigating circumstances when making the decision as laid out in In re Kennedy, 605 A.2d 600, 604 (D.C. 1992), In re Hutchinson, supra, 534 A.2d at 924. Court also cites to Rule XI, Sec. 3 (a)(2), which allows a fitness requirement to be included with any suspension for any length of time. Following this rule the court used In re Cooper, 613 A.2d 938 (D.C. 1992), In re Tinsley, 582 A.2d 1192 (D.C. 1990), In re Delate, supra, In re Greenspan, 578 A.2d 1156 (D.C. 1990), and In re Rosen, 570 A.2d 728 (D.C. 1989), to determine the consistency or lack there of among cases and how they relate to the respondent Steele’s case.