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Board of Professional Responsibility v. Hiatt

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 1, 2016

BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY, WYOMING STATE BAR, Petitioner,
v.
ROBERT W. HIATT JR., WSB # 6-2951, Respondent.

          ORDER OF PUBLIC CENSURE

          E. JAMES BURKE Chief Justice

         [¶1] This matter came before the Court upon a "Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure, " filed herein October 18, 2016, by the Board of Professional Responsibility for the Wyoming State Bar, pursuant to Rule 12 of the Wyoming Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (stipulated discipline). The Court, after a careful review of the Board of Professional Responsibility's Report and Recommendation and the file, finds that the Report and Recommendation should be approved, confirmed, and adopted by the Court, and that Respondent Robert W. Hiatt, Jr. should be publicly censured for his conduct. It is, therefore, [¶2] ADJUDGED AND ORDERED that the Board of Professional Responsibility's "Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure, " which is attached hereto and incorporated herein, shall be, and the same hereby is, approved, confirmed, and adopted by this Court; and it is further

         [¶3] ADJUDGED AND ORDERED that Robert W. Hiatt, Jr. is hereby publicly censured for his conduct, which is described in the Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure. The Wyoming State Bar may issue a press release consistent with the one set out in the Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure; and it is further

         [¶4] ORDERED that, pursuant to Rule 25 of the Wyoming Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, Mr. Hiatt shall reimburse the Wyoming State Bar the amount of $50.00, representing the costs incurred in handling this matter, as well as pay the administrative fee of $750.00. Mr. Hiatt shall pay the total amount of $800.00 to the Wyoming State Bar on or before December 1, 2016; and it is further

         [¶5] ORDERED that the Clerk of this Court shall docket this Order of Public Censure, along with the incorporated Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure, as a matter coming regularly before this Court as a public record; and it is further

         [¶6] ORDERED that, pursuant to Rule 9(b) of the Wyoming Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, this Order of Public Censure, along with the incorporated Report and Recommendation for Order of Public Censure, shall be published in the Wyoming Reporter and the Pacific Reporter; and it is further

         [¶7] ORDERED that the Clerk of this Court cause a copy of this Order of Public Censure to be served upon Respondent Robert W. Hiatt, Jr.

         [¶8] DATED this 1st day of November, 2016.

         BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT STATE OF WYOMING

         In the matter of ROBERT W. HIATT JR., WSB # 6-2951, Respondent.

         WSB No. 2016-035

         REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION FOR ORDER OF PUBLIC CENSURE

          JUDITH A.W. STUDER, CHAIR

         THIS MATTER came before the Board of Professional Responsibility on the 11th day of October, 2016, for consideration of the Stipulation for Public Censure submitted pursuant to Rules 9 and 12 of the Wyoming Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, and the Board having reviewed the Stipulation, the accompanying affidavit of factual basis and being fully advised in the premises, FINDS, CONCLUDES and RECOMMENDS as follows.

         1. Respondent was admitted to practice in Wyoming in 1998, and maintains a law practice in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

         2. This matter arises from a complaint which was submitted to Bar Counsel in February 2016 by Respondent's former client, James M. Snyder ("JMS"). JMS was first represented by Riverton lawyer, John Blomstrom, in a 2013 divorce action in Fremont County in which JMS's wife was (and continues to be) represented by Collin Hopkins of Riverton ("Hopkins"). A stipulated decree of divorce was entered in August 2013 and Blomstrom subsequently withdrew. Problems arose almost immediately with respect to JMS's visitation with the parties' minor son. JMS is an oilfield worker and spends much of his time out of state. On October 31, 2013, Hopkins filed a motion to suspend visitation on behalf of the mother.

         3. JMS hired Respondent in February 2014, signing a "Request for Contract for Legal Services" re: "modification of decree of divorce change in custody within the legal systems of the Ninth Judicial District Court, Fremont County, Wyoming." The document provided for a "non-refundable flat fee of $5, 000.00."

         4. Respondent commenced efforts to earn the fee in early April 2014 when Respondent filed a Petition to Modify Decree of Divorce and related pleadings on behalf of JMS. In June 2014, Hopkins filed acceptance of service on behalf of the ex-wife. In July 2014, Hopkins filed an answer and counterclaim on behalf of the ex-wife; Respondent filed an answer to counterclaim on behalf of JMS.

         5. Nearly five months later, on December 24, 2014, Respondent filed a motion for appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for the minor son, along with a request for status conference. A status conference was held on January 26, 2015. Judge Norman Young recommended the appointment of Riverton lawyer, Aaron Vincent, to serve as the minor child's GAL. However, Respondent failed to follow through on getting Vincent appointed as GAL.

         6. Between February 2014 and March 2015 there were numerous emails exchanged by JMS and Respondent regarding various subjects, with JMS becoming increasingly agitated as time dragged on with no apparent progress on the modification petition for which JMS hired Respondent and for which Respondent accepted a $5, 000.00 "non-refundable flat fee."

         7. In April 2015, JMS hired Thermopolis lawyer, Hope Gebes, to represent him. Gebes wrote to Respondent requesting the file and a refund of the unearned portion of the $5, 000 retainer. Respondent refused to release the file until JMS provided written notification of termination. On June 1, 2015, JMS sent an email to Respondent confirming termination and requested that the file be sent to Gebes.

         8. On July 7, 2015, Respondent filed a motion to withdraw. Respondent's motion was granted two days later.

         9. On July 13, 2015, Gebes wrote to Respondent, again requesting the file and a refund of the balance of the retainer. Respondent did not respond.

         10. On August 4, 2015, JMS sent the following email to Respondent: "Mr. Hiatt this is James Snyder my new attorneys have repeatedly asked you for all my paperwork and the rest of my refund from the retainer I gave you in full, so now I'm asking you to send these things to my attorneys asap." Respondent did not respond.

         11. Respondent has conditionally admitted to multiple violations of Rule 1.3 (diligence) and 1.4 (communication with client) of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. Respondent has also conditionally admitted to multiple violations of Rule 1.16(d) (termination of representation) in not responding to numerous requests from JMS and his new counsel following Respondent's discharge by JMS, and in not refunding the unearned portion of the $5, 000.00 fee. As part of the stipulated resolution of this matter, Respondent has agreed to refund $3, 000.00 to JMS.

         ABA ...


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