IN THE MATTER OF LINDA DEOLA, An Attorney at Law, Respondent.
November 29, 2016, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC)
filed a formal disciplinary complaint with the Commission on
Practice (Commission) against Montana attorney Linda Deola.
The disciplinary complaint may be reviewed by any interested
person in the office of the Clerk of this Court.
alleged four counts of misconduct against Deola arising out
of Deola's representation of plaintiff Billie Redding in
a lawsuit Redding filed concerning losses she incurred after
her accountants advised her to invest in a company that soon
went bankrupt. Deola became involved in the case after
Richard Layne, an Oregon attorney, entered into an agreement
with Deola to assist him in pursuing Redding's claims in
Montana and to share attorney fees.
filed a lawsuit on Redding's behalf in the First Judicial
District Court, Lewis & Clark County. Deola was
subsequently retained by five other clients with claims
similar to Redding's. Because Deola and Layne had agreed
to share any contingent fee in Redding's case, but Deola
had no fee-sharing agreement on the other five clients,
Deola's prospective contingent fee was higher for her
five newer clients than for Redding.
Redding, Deola's five newer clients, and one individual
represented by another attorney shared a global settlement of
$4.65 million, which was less than the losses the claimants
sustained. Each of the seven claimants received a
distribution of settlement funds based on the claimant's
pro rata share of the total amount invested.
the settlement, Redding, represented by Deola, sued the
insurer of the accounting firm for its handling of her claim.
The suit was initially filed in state court but was removed
to federal court. After the defendant insurer served
discovery requests, the federal court disqualified Deola
under the attorney witness rule. Deola's law partner,
Brian Miller, then assumed representation.
Deola's disqualification, certain documents were produced
in response to the defendant's discovery requests that
Deola had had in her possession but had not produced. Among
these documents was certain e-mail correspondence and a
spreadsheet enumerating what each claimant received from the
these alleged facts, the ODC accused Deola of violating the
following Montana Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.7
because there was a significant risk that her simultaneous
representation of these six clients would be materially
limited by her responsibilities to each client and by her
personal interests; Rule 1.8(g) by failing to obtain informed
consent in a signed writing from each client prior to
participating in the aggregate settlement of the claims; Rule
1.4 by failing to timely and adequately inform Redding about
Deola's representation of the other five claimants, the
conflict of interest in this representation, and the
ramifications of the global settlement and allocation of the
proceeds; Rule 3.4(d) by failing to comply with discovery
requests; Rule 1.1 by failing to provide Redding with
competent representation; and Rule 1.3 by failing to act with
reasonable diligence and promptness in representing Redding.
tendered an admission and affidavit of consent pursuant to
Rule 26(B)(3) of the Montana Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary
Enforcement (MRLDE), acknowledging that the material facts of
the complaint were true and that if the case proceeded to a
formal hearing, she could not successfully defend herself.
Deola further stated, "I consent to a public censure by
the Montana Supreme Court and suspension from the practice of
law of zero to three months. I may present argument for no
suspension and ODC may argue for a 90-day suspension. I
understand that the commission has the discretion to decide
what term of suspension it will recommend to the Court, if
any." Deola further consented to assessment of costs
pursuant to MRLDE 9(A)(8).
the ODC concurred with Deola's tendered admission, the
Commission set the matter for hearing. Both Deola and the ODC
filed recommendations for discipline, with Deola arguing for
no suspension and the ODC arguing for a 90-day suspension.
Commission heard the matter on July 25, 2019. After Deola
testified, both parties presented additional arguments as to
their recommendations for discipline.
August 27, 2019, the Commission submitted to this Court its
Recommendation in which it recommended that this Court accept
Deola's conditional admissions for violating M. R. Pro.
Cond. 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.7, 1.8(g), and 3.4(d), issue a public
censure, suspend Deola from the practice of law for 90 days,
and assess costs.
thereafter, Deola moved this Court for leave to submit an
objection to the recommendation that she be suspended from
the practice of law for 90 days. The ODC objected to
Deola's motion, arguing that respondents in disciplinary
matters are not entitled to file objections to a Rule 26
tendered admission. After considering the parties'
respective arguments, we held that although Rule 26 does not
expressly provide for a respondent to submit objections to a
recommendation made within the agreed range of discipline,
Deola reserved the right to do so within her Affidavit of
Consent. Therefore, we granted Deola leave to file her
objections and for the ODC to file a response. In the
Matter of Linda Deola, No. PR 16-0714, Or. (Sept. 24,
2019). Those filings now received, we consider whether to
accept the Commission's Recommendation under MRLDE 26(A).
Court reviews de novo the Commission's findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and recommendations. In re
Neuhardt, 2014 MT 88, ¶ 16, 374 Mont. 379, 321 P.3d
833 (citation omitted). In the present case, the only
disputed item is the recommendation for a 90-day suspension
and the scope of our review is thus limited to that question.
thoroughly reviewed the pertinent portions of the record,
and having considered the disciplinary criteria enumerated in
MRLDE 9(B), we have determined to accept the Commission's
recommendation that Deola be suspended from the practice of
law for 90 days. This suspension falls within the range of
discipline agreed to by Deola in her Affidavit of ...