WATERTOWN — A city attorney has had her law license suspended for one year for failing to properly attend to clients’ matters.
In a decision released Friday, the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, determined that Ruthanne G. Sanchez, who has practiced law for nearly 30 years, had committed misconduct by neglecting a client matter, failing to communicate with a client and failing to consult with a client about the means by which the client’s objectives were to be accomplished. The cases all involved Jefferson County Family Court matters.
Ms. Sanchez admitted to several of the underlying allegations against her and has agreed to the discipline action taken, according to the appellate court’s decision.
In one case, she agreed to represent a client in March 2016 in an impending divorce action and proceedings related to child custody, spousal support and visitation. Ms. Sanchez admitted that, while she verbally agreed that she would no longer represent the client in Family Court, she never memorialized the change in writing. She also admitted she subsequently failed to commence a divorce action for the client in a timely manner and failed to keep the client updated on the case. The clients represented themselves at a later hearing and “received an adverse determination from the Support Magistrate,” according to the appellate court’s determination.
Ms. Sanchez further admitted that she represented a client who was awarded temporary child support in April 2017, but she never submitted a proposed child support order to Family Court until June 2017 after being reminded by the court to do so.
The parties thereafter entered into a stipulation resolving all issues in the divorce, including the parties’ rights and obligations regarding child support arrears and marital debt, but the stipulation failed to set forth specific amounts for those items.
Ms. Sanchez admitted that she subsequently failed to comply with deadlines set by the court for submission of documents necessary to finalize the divorce and failed to respond to inquiries from the client regarding the matter. In December 2017, the client expressed concerns that the proposed judgment of divorce did not set forth specific amounts for child support arrears and marital debt, but Ms. Sanchez “merely advised the client the document had already been submitted the court, without directly addressing the concerns of the client.” Despite the client expressing urgency to finalize the divorce because her spouse had stopped paying child support, Ms. Sanchez did not file a judgment of divorce until February 2018.
In imposing its sanction, the appellate court said that it considered that Ms. Sanchez’s admitted misconduct “occurred over a relatively lengthy period of time and caused harm or prejudice to certain clients.” The court also said it considered Ms. Sanchez’s “relatively substantial disciplinary history,” which includes seven non-disciplinary letters of caution, two admonitions from the attorney Grievance Committee and her “failure to establish that she has taken steps to assure this Court that misconduct similar to that at issue here will not recur.”
Ms. Sanchez will be eligible to apply for reinstatement following her suspension, but the appellate court will require that she complete certain continuing legal education first and she must disclose any grievance complaints or investigations that may arise during her suspension, as well as any measures she has taken to resolve the matters.