Attorney punished by the Oregon Bar
Madras attorney William Carl will begin a 60-day suspension from the Oregon State Bar on Jan. 2.
The Bar began investigating after it filed a complaint against Carl last February and then amended the complaint in June.
In three of the four cases, Carl negotiated flat fees with clients and deposited those fees into his general business account rather than a trust account. The fee agreements he made with the clients did not inform them that they could terminate representation with Carl and might be able to receive a refund.
In the other case, Carl began having a sexual relationship with a woman in the summer of 2018. She then hired him to represent her in her divorce.
"Child custody, parenting time, financial support, and possession of the family home were at issue in the dissolution proceeding," according to the Oregon Bar Reporter. The woman also obtained a restraining order against her husband, and he was ordered to leave the home and have limited contact with their children.
Carl "had a personal interest in pursuing or maintaining an intimate relationship" with the woman "and a bond with her children," the Reporter said.
That interest "could materially limit his ability to provide objective and competent legal advice ...," it said, and the woman "did not provide informed consent, confirmed in writing," to his representation despite the conflict of interest
The Bar found that Carl violated his duty by entering into an improper fee agreement, by failing to preserve client property, and by avoiding personal conflicts of interest.
It said that his "mental state for the conduct in the fee agreement violations amounts to negligence." In the conflict of interest case, his mental state "amounts to knowledge," the Bar Reporter said, defining knowledge as "the conscious awareness of the nature attendant circumstances of the conduct but without the conscious objective or purpose to accomplish a particular result."
The Bar said that the woman in the divorce case was injured because Carl had to withdraw from her case, leaving her without counsel.
Carl's "failure to utilize proper fee agreements cause actual or potential injury to the profession, as it reflects poorly on the profession and undermines the public's trust in lawyers," the Reporter said.
Aggravating circumstances in the case included "a dishonest or selfish motive," particularly in the conflict of interest case; "multiple offenses"; and "substantial experience in the practice of law." Carl has been licensed in Oregon since 2002.
Mitigating circumstances included Carl's cooperative attitude toward the proceedings and his remorse.
Carl "has expressed remorse for his conduct and has corrected his flat fee agreements to conform to the rules of professional conduct," the Reporter said.
Carl said in an email to the Pioneer that the allegations are true.
"By way of context, regarding the funds: I charged three clients flat fees (instead of billing them hourly) with specific language in the fee agreements that the funds would be placed into business rather than trust accounts," he said. "However, I was negligent in not including additional language in the agreements regarding their rights to potential refunds in the event my representation of them was terminated. That is the basis for the violations: failure to include proper language in the fee agreements regarding potential refunds.
"I was negligent in not doing so and fully admit that," he continued. "I have since amended all my fee agreements to reflect the necessary language when charging a flat fee for my services.
"Regarding the personal relationship, I was again negligent in not securing a written waiver of a potential conflict of interest before representing someone I was personally involved with," he said. "Again it was entirely my fault for not knowing the requirements of representing someone I had a prior personal relationship with."
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