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In re Robinson

Supreme Court of Louisiana

December 6, 2017

IN RE: PEGGY M. HAIRSTON ROBINSON

         ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          PER CURIAM

         This disciplinary matter arises from formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") against respondent, Peggy M. Hairston Robinson, an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana but currently on interim suspension for threat of harm to the public. In re: Robinson, 15-0410 (La. 3/11/15), 162 So.3d 1172.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In August 2015, the ODC filed formal charges against respondent. Respondent answered the formal charges. Prior to a formal hearing in the matter, respondent and the ODC filed a joint stipulation of facts. Thereafter, the hearing committee conducted a formal hearing on the merits over seven days in January and February 2016.

         UNDERLYING FACTS

         Respondent was a mortgage loan originator and mortgage broker, both individually and as a principal of Metropolitan Mutual Mortgages, Inc. ("MMM"), duly licensed by the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions ("OFI"). After several of respondent's former loan customers filed complaints against her with the OFI, her mortgage originator and mortgage broker licenses were revoked.[1]Respondent is also a real estate agent, both individually and as a principal of Satellite Realty and Associates, Inc., duly licensed by the Louisiana Real Estate Commission. The ODC alleges that respondent engaged in attorney misconduct as well as misconduct stemming from her roles as a mortgage loan originator, mortgage broker, and real estate agent.

         Count I - The Hicks Matter

         The following facts are not in dispute, having been stipulated to by the parties.

         In August 2001, Anthony Hicks consulted with respondent through MMM to obtain a construction loan for a home to be located on Swingalong Avenue in Baton Rouge. Respondent was retained solely as a certified mortgage broker and was paid $2, 605 for services in obtaining the loan, which closed in September 2001. Thereafter, Mr. Hicks returned to respondent to obtain permanent financing for the construction project. She secured an offer of financing from Bayrock Mortgage. Mr. Hicks was not agreeable to the terms and refused to close on the loan. Respondent then filed a loan application with BNC Mortgage.

         Respondent claimed that Mr. Hicks owed her $6, 812 and that $5, 780 of that money was hers for "68 hours legal and preparation services on 2 properties." In June 2002, she filed a lien against the Swingalong Avenue property and against Mr. Hicks' personal residence. Mr. Hicks paid respondent $3, 050 to have the liens canceled and the sale completed. In July 2002, Mr. Hicks filed a complaint with the OFI. Following its investigation, the OFI rejected respondent's claim that she provided legal services to Mr. Hicks and was, therefore, entitled to the fees.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 8.4(a) (violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct) and 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation).

         After considering the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the hearing committee made the following findings:

Mr. Hicks alleged to the OFI that respondent continued to work although she was asked to stop. Mr. Hicks also asserted he did not hire respondent for legal services. Following the OFI administrative hearing, the revocation of respondent's licenses was affirmed and she was ordered to return $3, 050 to Mr. Hicks. It was also determined that respondent had overcharged Mr. Hicks for credit reports and improperly assessed or was paid other fees in advance of the loan closing. Respondent admitted that she has not paid Mr. Hicks.

         Respondent testified that she performed legal services for Mr. Hicks, and, in her capacity as a lawyer, had a right to place the liens, claiming he owed her for legal services. She placed the liens without obtaining or executing a judgment, but relied on a document entitled "monthly billing statement, " representing a compilation of receipts for legal work she performed for Mr. Hicks. The statement, which was not created until January 2003, purports to be for services from April 8, 1998 through June 13, 2002. Mr. Hicks testified that he did not receive the document, did not hire respondent for legal representation, and did not know she was an attorney until the closing.

         The committee did not credit respondent's testimony, which changed during the hearing. Initially, respondent stated that she was acting only as a mortgage banker and later stated that she was entitled to money for legal fees. Rather, the committee credited Mr. Hicks' testimony, which was consistent with the opinions of the administrative law judge and the OFI order. The committee also questioned whether the "monthly billing statement" was an accurate representation of prior services.

         Based on these findings, the committee determined respondent violated Rules 8.4(a) and 8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         Count II - The Irving Matter

         The following facts are not in dispute, having been stipulated to by the parties.

         In March 2006, respondent filed a petition for damages against Steve Irving, the attorney who had represented Mr. Hicks (Count I). In the suit, captioned Peggy M. H. Robinson v. Steve Irving, No. 541, 068 on the docket of the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, respondent stated the following:

From October 2002 until March 2005, the defendant filed a suit, which he knew to be without merits [sic] and filed two complaints with the Louisiana State Bar Association which he knew to be unwarranted. …
On one occasion, out of malice, defendant made reference to petitioner's ability to think and function, due to her advanced age, all in an attempt to degrade and/or defame the petitioner and placed petitioner in a bad light before the Courts and the Louisiana State Bar Association. Such action was done with reckless disregard for any consequences, which might and could result from his wrongful actions.

         Respondent filed the pleading with a motion and order to proceed in forma pauperis. The motion was denied in June 2006. Mr. Irving was not served until July 2009, approximately three years after the filing of the petition and after the dismissal of a mirrored complaint that was filed in federal court. After Mr. Irving answered the petition, no further action to prosecute this matter was taken by respondent.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 3.1 (a lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous), 8.4(a), 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), and 8.4(g) (a lawyer shall not threaten to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter).

         After considering the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the hearing committee made the following findings:

         Mr. Irving testified that respondent unsuccessfully tried to sanction him in federal court and was cautioned about filing frivolous and fictitious pleadings. Respondent testified that she did not sue Mr. Irving; however, the ODC's exhibits contain copies of the petition that was filed in state court and pleadings from the federal court that show respondent as a plaintiff and Mr. Irving as a defendant. In the district court case and on appeal, respondent was adjudged to have filed frivolous pleadings. The ruling and order of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana provides:

Plaintiffs' arguments are repetitious and vexatious. It is questionable whether the court retains jurisdiction over some of the arguments considering the numerous notices of appeals filed by plaintiffs. Additionally, plaintiffs attempt to interject matters that are not properly before the court. Moreover, the court agrees with defendants that plaintiffs' arguments are baseless.
Accordingly, the motion for new trial is hereby DENIED. Plaintiff is hereby placed on notice that any further such motions shall result in plaintiffs being required to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses and attorney's fees incurred by defendants because of such vexatious filings. ...
The clerk's office shall not accept any additional filings from plaintiffs without having first obtained court approval. No additional filings will be accepted absent a showing of good cause.

         This ruling was entered by Judge James J. Brady on December 9, 2008.

         Similarly, in the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a judgment dated January 5, 2010 provides in pertinent part as follows:

IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the appeal is dismissed as frivolous.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs-Appellants pay to Defendants-Appellees double costs on appeal to be taxed by the Clerk of this Court.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs-Appellants are ordered to pay Defendants-Appellees $10, 000.00 in attorney fees.

         The committee was provided no evidence to show that the $10, 000 and double costs were ever paid. Respondent offered no evidence to refute this charge. Her defense was her conclusory testimony that Mr. Hicks had engaged in a pattern of interfering with her mortgage company's business. The court orders are clear.

         Based on these findings, the committee determined respondent violated Rules 3.1 and 8.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         Count III - The Arvie Matter

         The following facts are not in dispute, having been stipulated to by the parties.

         Kenneth Arvie sought funding with MMM for a construction project. Respondent was retained solely as a certified mortgage broker. Mr. Arvie paid respondent $2, 500 as a "deposit on project/commercial." When respondent failed to obtain final approval for the loan, Mr. Arvie demanded a refund. On September 6, 2002, respondent wrote to Mr. Arvie on "Attorney at Law" letterhead and claimed that she

obtained permanent financing and issued a commitment, which is standard in the business for a fee, also directed you to a local Commercial bank for construction loan. Both the construction loan and the permanent (sic) loan was approved when you make the necessary corrections on your 1040 returns.

         In response to Mr. Arvie's request for a refund, respondent stated that a return of the unused amount would be available in certified funds "on or before September 20, 2002."

         Mr. Arvie filed a complaint against respondent with the OFI. On November 26, 2003, an administrative law judge ordered respondent to refund $1, 375 to Mr. Arvie.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.7 (conflict of interest), 1.8 (prohibited business transactions between a lawyer and client), 3.4(c) (knowing disobedience of an obligation under the rules of a tribunal), 8.4(a), and 8.4(c).

         After considering the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the hearing committee made the following findings:

Mr. Arvie paid respondent $8, 875, but she never secured the loan. Respondent testified that she did obtain approval for the loan and also claimed that Mr. Arvie asked her for a "legal plan" to go to the secondary market. Respondent admitted she did not give the $1, 325 refund as ordered and testified she used the money to pay for an appraisal. Mr. Arvie testified that he never hired respondent for any legal work, never got the loan, and never received an appraisal. The committee credited the testimony of Mr. Arvie.

         Based on these findings, the committee determined respondent violated Rules 3.4(c), 8.4(a), and 8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

         Count IV - The Rayford Matter

         In 1994, Robert Rayford and Joseph Wright filed suit pro se in federal court in Mississippi. In the suit, they made prisoner complaints concerning conditions of confinement. Mr. Rayford then hired respondent to represent him. In January 1996, she accompanied him to an evidentiary hearing, where there was discussion as to whether she would also represent Mr. Wright. Following the hearing, United States Magistrate Judge Eugene Bogen signed the following order:

… [W]ithin 30 days of this date counsel for plaintiff Rayford shall notify the court in writing of her intention to also represent plaintiff Joseph Wright.
… [T]his cause [shall] be held in abeyance for a period of 45 days, during which time plaintiffs' counsel shall investigate the matter and move to file an amended complaint which more narrowly focuses the issues, stating specifically what the plaintiffs are seeking in relief, and specifically what each defendant did or did not do which violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.

         On April 1, 1996, Mr. Rayford's case was again before the court, at which time Judge Bogen noted respondent's failure to file anything, despite his order. Judge Bogen then issued the following order in pertinent part:

… Honorable Peggy M. Robinson shall within 10 days of this date notify the court in writing of her intention to proceed on Mr. Rayford's behalf, including an explanation of her failure to comply with the order dated January 22, 1996, or, if she does not intend to represent Mr. Rayford, counsel shall forthwith move to withdraw.

         On April 22, 1996, in a letter to the deputy clerk, respondent stated:

This letter is regarding the telephone conversation we had last week. I am forwarding a Motion to Enroll as Counsel of Record and Motion for Continuance with the correct case number. I will represent Mr. Rayford, Jr. in a timely and expedient manner...

         In May 1996, Mr. Rayford's case was again before the court. In his order, Judge Bogen noted that respondent's motion to enroll was "not well taken and should be denied." As to her failure to comply with court orders, Judge Bogen stated: "Such disregard for the court will not be tolerated. Thus, the court hereby imposes sanctions upon Ms. Robinson for failing to comply with the court orders ... in the amount of $200." Respondent was given ten days to pay the sanction and the clerk of court was directed to strike her from the docket as counsel of record. To date, respondent has not paid the sanction.

         In July 1996, the court dismissed the case without prejudice for failure to prosecute. Mr. Rayford filed a motion seeking a new court date, noting that his counsel had been ineffective. His motion was treated as a motion to reconsider, which was denied in September 1996.

         The ODC alleged respondent's conduct violated the following provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct: Rules 1.3 (failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client), 3.4(c), 8.4(a), and 8.4(d).

         After considering the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the hearing committee made the following findings:

         Respondent's testimony was so equivocal that the committee could not credit it. She first admitted that the sanction was not paid and stated that she would "send the $200." She then testified that she thought she had paid $100 after she came back to Louisiana. She then said, "I think I paid it." She acknowledged that the court denied her enrollment and ordered her to pay $200. This occurred in May 1996. Respondent said she would check on it and get it in the mail. Respondent testified that due to an emergency, she was out of town for four or five months and did not get the court notices. She testified that a Hammond attorney was supposed to cover for her but did not go to her office. She speculated that someone else got her mail but did not give it to the attorney. The court ...


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