A hearing committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility has recommended that an assistant D.C. attorney general receive a 30-day stayed suspension for ethical violations allegedly committed while in private practice.
In a July 20 report, the hearing committee approved a negotiated discipline for Rachele Reid that would also require her to serve a one-year unsupervised probation and to complete a mandatory CLE course. Based on the hearing committee’s report, the board will make an official recommendation to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which makes final decisions on all disciplinary matters.
If the appeals court ultimately approves the negotiated discipline, Reid would not face suspension if she doesn’t have any disciplinary issues arise during the one-year probation period.
The report was signed by Holland & Knight partner Paul Kiernan, Burnette Williams II of the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, and Elizabeth Nichols, a non-lawyer member of the committee.
The report says that Reid, now an assistant D.C. attorney general in the Juvenile Section of the Public Safety Division in the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, mishandled two client matters while in private practice, and her actions resulted in negative outcomes for her then-clients.
In the first case, Reid, who then went by her maiden name, Gaines, was appointed by the D.C. Superior Court to serve as the guardian of Thomas Shannon, a Maryland nursing home resident who suffered from a number of physical and mental-health conditions, including dementia.
According to the report, Reid failed to file all of the reports that she was supposed to and did not attend any of the quarterly care-plan reviews between Aug. 2000 and Nov. 2003. The report says there is no evidence that she ever visited Shannon in the nursing home. After she was hired by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office in 2002, she also made no effort to terminate her guardianship of Shannon, the report says.
Shannon was decertified for Medicaid benefits in May 2003 and faced eviction from his nursing home. Although Reid had been sent notice of the decertification, which included notice that it had to be appealed in a timely fashion, the report says there is no evidence that she discussed the decertification with Shannon.
Reid was removed as Shannon’s guardian in March 2004 after she failed to appear at a hearing. The report says that notice of the hearing had been mailed to her listed address, but that the address was no longer valid.
In the second case, Francisco Ramirez hired Washington solo practitioner Alan Toppelberg, whom Reid worked for at the time, to handle a personal injury dispute while she was a lawyer with the Law Office of Alan Toppelberg. On May 30, 2001, which the report notes was one day before the statute of limitations was set to expire on Ramirez’s case, Reid filed a claim against the owner and the driver of the car Ramirez said had struck him. The problem was, the report says, Reid did not consult with Ramirez before filing the complaint. Reid also failed to file proofs of service on the defendants and to move for an extension of time to file those proofs of service.
As a result, the D.C. Superior Court dismissed Ramirez’s lawsuit in August 2001. The report says that Reid made no effort to effect service on the defendants or to inform Ramirez that his case had been thrown out. Reid made another attempt to file the lawsuit on behalf of Ramirez in December 2001, but again did not consult with Ramirez before refiling the suit. The suit was eventually thrown out again because of the time between the reinstatement of the case and the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Based on the two cases, Reid was charged with a series of ethical rule violations. Reid is being represented by Armin Kuder, a name partner at Kuder, Smollar & Freidman in Washington. Reid and Kuder did not immediately return calls for comment.
While the hearing committee’s report notes that Reid’s misconduct was “serious,” it says that she deserves some leniency because of several mitigating factors. Those factors included, the lack of prior disciplinary allegations, her eight-year tenure at the D.C. Attorney General’s office without any disciplinary complaints, her cooperation with bar counsel, and “genuine remorse.” The report also mentions as a mitigating factor the fact that her misconduct arose during a time period when she was moving from private practice to a government position and that her supervising attorney, Toppelberg, was disciplined for, among other things, failing to properly supervise her work.
The report says, “At bottom, these matters involve an attorney’s failure to pursue diligently a client’s objectives, and then her failure to properly hand-off her responsibilities when her job change prevented her from continuing to represent these clients.”
The report says Reid has informed her employers in the D.C. Attorney General’s Office of the disciplinary proceedings.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles and a spokesperson for the office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.