Discipline Notice - Sheley J. M. Secrest

License Number: 36054 Member Name: Sheley J. M. Secrest
Action: Suspension Effective Date: 07/17/2012
Lawyer RPC Violated: 1.3 - Diligence
1.4 - Communication
8.4 (l) - Violate ELCs
1.16 - Declining or Terminating Representation
Discipline Notice:
Description: Sheley J. M. Secrest, (WSBA No. 36054, admitted 2005), of Shaker Heights, OH, was suspended from the practice of law in the State of Washington for a period of 60 days, effective July 17, 2012, by order of the Washington State Supreme Court following approval of a stipulation. This discipline is based on conduct involving failure to act diligently, failure to respond to requests for information, failure to disclose suspension status, and failure to withdraw from representation.
In fall of 2008, Ms. Secrest moved to Ohio but continued to maintain her practice in Tacoma, Washington as a public defender. Between fall 2009 and May 2010, Ms. Secrest was flying between Washington and Ohio monthly, staying approximately two weeks in each state.
In May 2009, Client A hired Ms. Secrest to represent him in a child custody matter and paid her $3,500. In August 2009, Ms. Secrest filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (to prevent the mother’s impending move) and a proposed parenting plan. On October 22, 2009, Mother filed a motion to modify the parenting plan; however, she did not perfect service until December 10, 2009, when Ms. Secrest waived service in court. On December 9, 2009, Ms. Secrest attended a hearing on the motion for temporary restraining order; the trial on the motion was set for June 21, 2010. On December 10, 2009, Ms. Secrest attended a hearing on Mother’s motion to modify the parenting plan.
From May 2010 through September 2010, Ms. Secrest did not travel to Washington. Ms. Secrest maintained her mailing address in Tacoma, since she continued to have cases there, but she only got her mail when she came to Tacoma. This resulted in Ms. Secrest not receiving some of the correspondence which was sent to her Tacoma address. In early 2010, Ms. Secrest’s telephone number and the email address she had listed with the Association became inactive. Client A was never informed that Ms. Secrest had a new phone number and that her old email address was no longer active. When Client A was unable to reach Ms. Secrest, Client A contacted a lawyer who was a mutual friend. That lawyer contacted Ms. Secrest and asked to her to be in contact with Client A. Client A reached Ms. Secrest through a different email on January 21, 2010; Ms. Secrest replied to Client A’s email on January 22, 2010, and gave him her new phone number and apologized. Ms. Secrest did not appear at five hearings held in fall 2009 and winter 2010 on Client A’s matter, but sent another lawyer in her place on three occasions (October 2, 2009, February 11, 2010, and March 15, 2010). No one appeared on Client A’s behalf on October 19, 2009 and October 23, 2009, but Client A was present at the October 23, 2009 hearing. At the February 11, 2010 hearing, the court ordered that there would be no further continuances in the matter. On March 5, 2010, the Court ordered the parties to set up a settlement conference and threatened sanctions due to the parties’ failure to comply with the case schedule regarding the settlement conference. The settlement conference was rescheduled for the week of May 27, 2010. On March 15, 2010, Mother’s motion for modification was dismissed without prejudice. Neither party confirmed the settlement conference to be held the week of May 27, 2010 and it was stricken.
On May 11, 2010, Ms. Secrest was administratively suspended for failure to comply with her mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements under Admission to Practice Rule (APR) 11. Ms. Secrest learned of the suspension on May 27, 2010, but did not notify Client A of the suspension at that time or withdraw from the representation of Client A. Ms. Secrest agrees that she did not communicate with Client A until she sent him an email on June 19, 2010, two days before Client A’s trial, and informed him of her suspension. In that email, Ms. Secrest informed Client A that she had discussed the case with one of the lawyers (“Lawyer”) who had previously assisted on the case and that Client A should request a continuance of his trial. Client A believed that Lawyer had agreed to take the case; however, Lawyer testified that although in March 2010 Lawyer had offered to help Ms. Secrest with the trial, when contacted by Ms. Secrest in June, Lawyer advised her that she could not cover the trial on short notice but might be willing to discuss the possibility if Client A got a significant continuance. No attorney appeared on behalf of Client A at the June 21, 2010 trial, and, the Court refused to grant Client A a continuance, so he presented his case pro se. Although Client A had physical custody of his son for approximately nine months at the trial on June 21, 2010, the Court ordered that Mother would regain physical custody of Client A’s son and allowed Mother to relocate.
Ms. Secrest’s conduct violated RPC 1.3, requiring a lawyer to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client; RPC 1.4, requiring a lawyer to communicate with the client; RPC 1.16(a)(1), prohibiting a lawyer from representing a client if it will result in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct; and RPC 8.4(l), prohibiting a lawyer from violating a duty or sanction imposed by or under the Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct in connection with a disciplinary matter [here, ELC 1.5 and ELC 14.1(c)].
Sachia Stonefeld Powell represented the Bar Association. Kurt M. Bulmer represented Ms. Secrest.
In some cases, discipline search results will not reveal all disciplinary action relating to a Washington licensed legal professional, and may not display links to the official decision documents.