The Wyoming Supreme Court issued a public censure to Cheyenne lawyer, Bruce S. Asay. Asay represented a client with respect to employment-related issues, including a claim for Unemployment Insurance Compensation (UIC) and a discrimination (retaliatory discharge) claim. Asay required a $4,000 payment from the client before filing the discrimination lawsuit, which was deposited into Asay’s lawyer trust account, an account designated for funds belonging to clients.
Asay and the client had different understandings as to fee arrangements in the two matters. Asay contended that the legal services he provided in the UIC matter were on an hourly basis, while the discrimination lawsuit was on a contingent fee basis. The client contended that all work performed by Asay after the initial two consultations, for which the client paid Asay’s hourly rate, was done on a contingent fee basis. After the two matters were concluded unsuccessfully for the client, Asay threatened to sue the client for more than $70,000 in fees and costs incurred in the UIC matter. The client filed a complaint with the Office of Bar Counsel of the Wyoming State Bar.
Following investigation, Bar Counsel filed a formal disciplinary charge contending that Asay violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct in his representation of the client. Following a hearing, the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) found that Asay violated Rule 1.4 (communication with client) in failing to clearly communicate the fee arrangement to the client. The BPR also found that Asay violated Rule 1.5 (fees) in charging an unreasonable fee, in failing to communicate the fee arrangement to the client, and in failing to have a written contingent fee agreement. Finally, the BPR found that Asay violated Rule 1.15 (lawyer trust accounts) when he applied a portion of the $4,000 payment made by the client, which was intended to pay out-of-pocket costs incurred in the discrimination lawsuit, to pay a portion of Asay’s fees and costs in the UIC matter. The BPR filed a report of its findings with the Wyoming Supreme Court, along with a recommendation that Asay receive a public censure for his conduct.
Upon review, the Wyoming Supreme Court issued an order approving, confirming and adopting the BPR’s report and recommendation. In addition to receiving a public censure, Asay was ordered to pay an administrative fee of $750.00 and costs in the amount of$7,026.42 to the Wyoming State Bar.