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In re Neuhardt

Supreme Court of Montana

March 13, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF SOLOMON S. NEUHARDT, An Attorney at Law, Respondent.

Office of Disciplinary Counsel No. 12-225, 12-248

Shaun R. Thompson Chief Disciplinary Counsel

AMENDED COMPLAINT

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the State of Montana ("ODC"), hereby charges Solomon S. Neuhardt with professional misconduct as follows:

General Allegations

1. Solomon S. Neuhardt, hereinafter referred to as Respondent, was admitted to the practice of law in the State of Montana in 2001, at which time he took the oath required for admission, wherein he agreed to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Disciplinary Rules adopted by the Supreme Court, and the highest standards of honesty, justice and morality, including, but not limited to, those outlined in parts 3 and 4 of Chapter 61, Title 37, Montana Code Annotated.

2. The Montana Supreme Court has approved and adopted the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct ("MRPC"), governing the ethical conduct of attorneys licensed to practice in the State of Montana, which Rules were in effect at all times mentioned in this Complaint.

Count One

(ODC File No. 12-225)

3. ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations as if fully restated in this Count One.

4. On August 31, 2009, Anthony Barron ("Barron") was injured in a motor vehicle accident near Three Forks, Montana.

5. On August 5, 2010, Barron entered into a Contingent Fee Agreement with Respondent. Under the terms of said agreement, Respondent was to pursue all claims for damages on Barron's behalf.

6. On September 15, 2010, Respondent filed a lawsuit on Barron's and his wife's behalf: Barron v. Truck Capital, LLC et al, Montana Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, Cause No. DV-10-1335C.

7. At all times pertinent hereto, the Defendants' liability insurance carrier was The Grange Mutual Casualty Group ("Grange").

8. In February 2011, Grange sent Respondent a check payable to "Neuhardt Law Firm, P.C." in the amount of $30, 310.13. The check was an advance to cover certain medical expenses incurred by Barron.

9. The check for $30, 310.13 was deposited into Respondent's IOLTA trust account on February 15, 2011. That same day, a check for $30, 310.13 payable to "NLF" was drawn on Respondent's trust account and deposited into Respondent's operating account. The memo line on the trust account check states it was for "Barron - Atty Fee."

10.During the period from August 30, 2011 through December 1, 2011, Respondent issued checks from his IOLTA trust account to pay for the medical expenses for which the $30, 310.13 was intended.

11.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to promptly notify his clients of his receipt of the $30, 310.13.

12.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to hold property belong to his clients and/or others separate from his own property and in accordance with Rule 1.18, MRPC.

13.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to promptly deliver funds to which Barron and/or the health care providers were entitled.

14.Respondent has advised ODC that he no longer has Barron's client ledger. In violation of Rule 1.18, MRPC, Respondent failed to keep records as required by the Trust Account Maintenance and Audit Requirements.

Count Two

(ODC File No. 12-225)

15. ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 4 through 10 of Count One as if fully restated in this Count Two.

16.Respondent's deposit of the entire $30, 310.13 into his operating account constitutes misappropriation in violation of Rule 8.4, MRPC. Alternatively, if the transfer was the result of errors or omissions by a member of Respondent's staff, Respondent may have violated Rule 5.3, MRPC, for failure to make reasonable efforts to ensure that his employee's conduct was compatible with Respondent's professional obligations.

Count Three

(ODC File No. 12-225)

17.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations, paragraphs 4 through 10 of Count One as if fully restated in this Count Three.

18.In order to cover the checks Respondent issued from his IOLTA trust account to pay for Barron's medical expenses for which the $30, 310.13 was intended, Respondent would have had to have deposited his own funds into his trust account or use funds that belonged to others.

19.If Respondent used his own funds, it would constitute comingling in violation of Rules 1.15 and 1.18, MRPC.

20.Alternatively, if Respondent used funds belonging to others, it would constitute misappropriation in violation of Rule 8.4, MRPC.

Count Four

(ODC File No. 12-225)

21.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 4 through 10 of Count One as if fully restated in this Count Four.

22.In violation of Rule 1.4, MRPC, Respondent failed to keep his clients reasonably informed about the status of the matter.

Count Five

(ODC File No. 12-225)

23.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 4 through 10 of Count One as if fully restated in this Count Five.

24.In January 2012, John Heenan replaced Respondent as the Barrons' attorney.

25.In violation of Rule 1.5(c), MRPC, Respondent, upon or before the conclusion of the representation, failed to provide his clients with a written statement showing them the remittance of the funds and the method of its determination.

Count Six

(ODC File No. 12-248)

26.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations as if fully restated in this Count Six.

27.On September 3, 2010, Marian Beaulieu ("Beaulieu") was injured in a motor vehicle accident in Billings, Montana.

28.On February 2, 2011, Beaulieu entered into a Contingent Fee Agreement with Respondent. Under the terms of said agreement, Respondent was to pursue all claims for damages on Beaulieu's behalf.

29.At the time of the motor vehicle accident, Farmers Insurance Group ("Farmers") was Beaulieu's motor vehicle insurance carrier.

30.On June 7, 2011, Farmers issued two checks payable to "Solomon Neuhardt Law Firm, P.C." totaling $4, 495.52. One check was for $1, 749.60 and the other for $2, 745.92. The checks were for medical expenses incurred by Beaulieu.

31.The checks were deposited into Respondent's IOLTA trust account on June 20, 2011.

32.According to Respondent's trust account client ledger for Beaulieu, on June 22, 2011, two checks, one for $583.20 and the other for $915.31, were made payable to Respondent's firm. The checks were for Respondent's fees on the $4, 495.52 he received from Farmers. The checks, however, were never cashed.

33.In November 2011, Beaulieu received a voicemail to the effect that Respondent was leaving the practice of law and that she should pick up her file.

34.On January 25, 2013, Respondent issued a check, drawn on a new trust account, payable to himself in the amount of $1, 498.36 for his fee on the $4, 495.52 received from Farmers.

35.On January 28, 2013, Respondent issued a check, drawn on a new trust account, payable to Beaulieu in the amount of $2, 997.18 for her share of the $4, 495.52 received from Farmers. On February 18, 2013, Respondent sent the check to ODC, which ODC forwarded to Beaulieu.

36.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to promptly notify Beaulieu of his receipt of the $4, 495.52 received from Farmers.

37.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to promptly deliver funds to which Beaulieu was entitled.

38.In violation of Rule 1.18, MRPC, Respondent failed to maintain records as required by the Trust Account Maintenance and Audit Requirements, including: failure to list all transactions on the client ledger and inaccurate and/or incomplete recordkeeping.

Count Seven

(ODC File No. 12-248)

39.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 27 through 35 of Count Six as if fully restated in this Count Seven.

40.In violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC, Respondent failed to hold property belonging to his client and/or others separate from his own property and in accordance with Rule 1.18, MRPC.

Count Eight

(ODC File No. 12-248)

41.0DC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 27 through 38 of Count Six as if fully restated in this Count Eight.

42.If errors or omissions by a member of Respondent's staff contributed to the alleged occurrences, Respondent may have violated Rule 5.3, MRPC, for failure to make reasonable efforts to ensure that his employee's conduct was compatible with Respondent's professional obligations.

Count Nine

(ODC File No. 12-248)

43.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 27 through 38 of Count Six as if fully restated in this Count Nine.

44.In violation of Rule 1.4, MRPC, Respondent failed to keep Beaulieu reasonably informed about the status of the matter.

Count Ten

(ODC File No. 12-248)

45.ODC realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1 through 2 of the General Allegations and paragraphs 27 through 38 of Count Six as if fully restated in this Count Ten.

46.In violation of Rule 1.5(c), MRPC, Respondent, upon or before the conclusion of the representation, failed to provide Beaulieu with a written statement showing the remittance owed to her and the method of its determination.

WHEREFORE, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel prays:

1. That a Citation be issued to the Respondent, to which shall be attached a copy of the complaint, requiring Respondent, within twenty (20) days after service thereof, to file a written answer to the complaint;

2. That a formal hearing be had on the allegations of this complaint before an Adjudicatory Panel of the Commission;

3. That the Adjudicatory Panel of the Commission make a report of its findings and recommendations after a formal hearing to the Montana Supreme Court, and, in the event the Adjudicatory Panel finds the facts warrant disciplinary action and recommends discipline, that the Commission also recommend the nature and extent of appropriate disciplinary action, and,

4. For such other and further relief as deemed necessary and proper.


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