Camacho orders Quichocho to explain why he should not be held in contempt
Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman ordered yesterday a public reprimand against suspended lawyer Ramon K. Quichocho for professional misconduct in connection with another Bar complaint.
Wiseman ordered the public reprimand against Quichocho to be published in the newspaper to inform the general public of his professional misconduct.
As this developed, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho ordered Quichocho yesterday to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for not filing an affidavit as required in the court’s suspension order.
Camacho ordered Quichocho to appear in court on July 30, 2014, at 1:30pm to explain why he has not filed the affidavit required by Rule 15(d) of the Commonwealth Disciplinary Rules and Procedures, and why he should not be held in contempt. The judge allowed Quichocho to make arrangements to appear telephonically or by video conference if necessary.
Under Rule 15(d), within 10 days after the effective date of a disbarment or suspension order, the disbarred or suspended attorney shall file with the Superior Court an affidavit showing, among other things, that he or she has complied with the provisions of the order and rules.
Last May 28, Camacho suspended Quichocho’s license to practice law for three years for using a legal tool to harass a former client to obtain payment.
In this latest case, Wiseman said the public admonition against Quichocho is warranted in view of his violations, a recent disciplinary judgment against Quichocho that resulted in his suspension, and his extensive history of practicing law in the CNMI.
In his 18-page decision, Wiseman also ordered Quichocho to pay for the costs of prosecution, costs of investigations and service of process, in amounts to be determined at a later date.
Wiseman said the duty violated and injury caused by Quichocho’s misconduct were relatively minor, and no affirmative evidence as to his mental state or motive for his actions exists on the record.
“As such, ethical violations of this magnitude ordinarily warrant a private admonition by the court, where the lawyer’s conduct is isolated and causes little or no actual or potential injury to a client,” the judge said.
According to Wiseman’s findings, the CNMI Bar Association Disciplinary Committee referred to court the complaint against Quichocho. The court then appointed attorney George L. Hasselback as disciplinary counsel to prosecute the case.
Quichocho first represented Ignacio DLG. Demapan in 2004 in a lawsuit filed by the Commonwealth Development Authority in Superior Court. The lawyer later represented Demapan in connection with a government investigation into the land-clearing and destruction of the habitat of a protected bird species living on Demapan’s property.
Quichocho told Demapan that he had contacted various individuals and officials involved in the investigation and that “he [Quichocho] would take care of it.”
On July 29, 2004, former assistant attorney general Sean Lynch wrote a letter to Quichocho, stating that the government had withdrawn its notice of violation and civil penalty, and that while he would seek a redress in a judicial forum of a criminal action, he was open to arranging a meeting with him and Demapan to discuss the alleged violations.
Soon after, the government dismissed the administrative proceeding before the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
The contents of Lynch’s letter were not forwarded, disclosed, or otherwise communicated to Demapan by Quichocho.
In May 2006, Demapan was arrested and charged in federal court with the taking of an endangered species. Quichocho briefly represented Demapan in the federal criminal case, but was quickly substituted out and he turned over Demapan’s entire file to the new counsel.
In the 2008 general election for the federally elected position for delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Quichocho’s uncle, Felipe Q. Atalig, was a candidate.
In October 2008 or two weeks before the election, Quichocho saw Demapan in a restaurant. The lawyer told Demapan in Chamorro, “Uncle Ike, if you vote for Felipe Atalig for delegate, I will forgive the debts that you owe to me.”
Demapan asked Quichocho if he was serious about his offer, to which Quichocho replied that he was. The lawyer claimed that Demapan owed him $8,000 in legal fees in connection with the CDA matter.
In November 2009, Quichocho and Demapan had a falling out due to politics.
In 2009, Quichocho filed a small claims against Demapan to collect on the legal fees and costs related to his representation in the Division of Fish and Wildlife administrative proceedings, which was reduced to a judgment in Quichocho’s favor.
Demapan has since paid off the small claims judgment.
Quichocho has not been charged with a federal law on prohibition against vote buying.
Quichocho owed Dr. Larry Hocog $8,000 in connection with the expert witness testimony provided in one of respondent’s cases at around the same time as his collection efforts.
On Jan. 15, 2012, Dr. Hocog and his attorney, Robert Myers, approached Quichocho in efforts to assign the attorney’s fees Demapan owed respondent in order to satisfy the debt respondent owed Hocog.
In assigning the attorney’s fees owed him, Quichocho provided Hocog and his attorney Demapan’s name, as well as the purported amount to be transferred—some $8,623.
The assignment was made without the consent, consultation, and/or knowledge of neither Demapan nor his wife.
In 2012, the Demapan couple filed an unrelated lawsuit against Hocog. The couple then entered into a settlement agreement with Hocog.
Much to the surprise of the Demapan couple, Hocog tendered, as partial settlement, the debt assigned by Quichocho to Hocog as part of the assignment.
In June 2012, the Demapan couple filed a Bar complaint against Quichocho.
Wiseman conducted a closed-door evidentiary hearing on Nov. 20, 2013. Hasselback appeared as the disciplinary counsel. Quichocho appeared and was represented by his counsel, Michael Dotts.
Hasselback claims Quichocho violated Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to inform Demapan about “the threat of criminal charges and/or the overtures of reconciliation” contained in the letter from Lynch.
Quichocho argues, among other things, that his representation of Demapan at the administrative level was successful and that the federal government arrested and charged Demapan and not the CNMI represented by Lynch.
In finding Quichocho in violation of Rule 1.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Wiseman said the respondent had a duty to inform his client of the possibility of the government—whether it be the CNMI or a federal agency—filing criminal charges, as well as the potential willingness of the Office of the Attorney General to meet and discuss a possible settlement.
Wiseman said Quichocho failed to do so until after the government made its final decision to file criminal charges, and thus foreclosed any possibility of settling the case with the CNMI before they were filed.
Wiseman did not find any violation of Model Rule 8.4 in connection with Quichocho’s alleged attempts to “buy” his client’s vote for his uncle Atalig in exchange for forgiving Demapan’s legal fees owed him in connection with representation in a previous, unrelated case.
Hasselback also claims violations of Model Rules 1.6 and 1.9 in relation to the purported assignment of owed legal fees to Hocog in order to settle an unrelated small claims matter.
Wiseman said while the court views the circumstances as presented to be more egregious than an ordinary collection effort, the court finds that Demapan’s consent is not required in this case and that Quichocho has not violated any of the Model Rules cited by Hasselback.
The judge, however, stated that Quichocho’s practice rests in stark contrast with customary collection efforts that attorneys in this jurisdiction and others conduct as ordinary business, and “is not condoned by this court in refusing to find violations here.”