Wyoming Supreme Court Suspends Cody Attorney

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Supreme Court today issued an order suspending Cody attorney Laurence W. Stinson from the practice of law for a period of nine months commencing March 7, 2016.  Stinson was admitted to the Wyoming State Bar in 1995.

In 2007, Stinson purchased a residential lot from a local couple for whom he performed occasional legal work both before and after the lot purchase.  There were initial discussions about Stinson having the couple build a custom home for him on the lot, but no agreement was reached and Stinson ultimately purchased another residence but retained ownership of the lot.  After their attorney-client relationship with Stinson terminated, the couple complained to the city about the condition of Stinson’s lot, which was adjacent to the couple’s home.  In 2010, the city sent an abatement order to Stinson which required him to remove the weeds on the lot within 15 days.  The couple made further complaints in 2011, which resulted in a communication between Stinson and an attorney for the city about the condition of the lot.

The day after Stinson’s conversation with the attorney for the city, Stinson filed a lawsuit against the couple in district court.  The lawsuit was brought in the name of a limited liability company, New Dehli Trading Co., created by Stinson shortly before the suit was filed, to which Stinson had conveyed ownership of the lot.  In the lawsuit, Stinson alleged that the couple had defrauded him in the sale of the lot, having assured him that a residence would be built on the property for $400,000.00 or less.  The lawsuit sought recovery of actual and punitive damages.

The New Dehli lawsuit was ultimately dismissed for lack of prosecution in 2014, following which the couple filed a grievance against Stinson with the Office of Bar Counsel.  Following investigation, Bar Counsel filed a formal charge alleging that Stinson had violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct in filing and maintaining the lawsuit.  Following a weeklong disciplinary hearing, the Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) found clear and convincing evidence that Stinson had violated Rule 3.3(a) by making numerous false statements to the court in the New Dehli lawsuit, and further by offering evidence to the BPR that Stinson knew to be false.  The BPR also found that Stinson violated Rules 3.4(c) and (d) in his conduct in the litigation, and that he violated Rule 4.4(a) by using means that had no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden the couple against whom he brought the lawsuit.  The BPR found that the New Dehli lawsuit was filed in retaliation against Stinson’s former clients for their repeated complaints to the city regarding Stinson’s failure to maintain the lot, and should never have been filed.  The BPR also found that Stinson violated Rule 8.4(c) by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation to the court, the couple and various attorneys hired by the couple to represent them in the New Dehli lawsuit.  Finally, the BPR found that Stinson violated Rule 8.4(d) by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.  With respect to other allegations in the formal charge, the BPR found that Bar Counsel did not carry his burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that Stinson violated Rules 1.8(a) (conflict of interest-business transaction with client), 3.1(a) (frivolous claim), 3.2 (expediting litigation), 3.7 (lawyer as a witness) and 4.1 (truthfulness in statements to others).

In determining the appropriate sanction for Stinson’s misconduct, the BPR found that Stinson breached duties owed to the legal system and to the public.  The BPR further found that in bringing and maintaining the New Dehli Lawsuit, Stinson acted with the conscious objective and purpose of causing injury to his former clients, and that Stinson engaged in a pattern of intentional misrepresentations.  The BPR found several aggravating factors, including dishonest or selfish motive; a pattern of misconduct; multiple offenses; refusal by Stinson to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct; submission of false statements during the disciplinary process; and substantial experience in the practice of law.  Finding no mitigating factors, the BPR recommended that Stinson be suspended for a period of nine months and that Stinson be ordered to pay restitution to his former clients in the amount of $11,641.17, said sum representing the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the couple in defending the New Dehli Lawsuit.  The Wyoming Supreme Court accepted the BPR’s recommendation, ordering Stinson to make restitution to his former clients, to pay costs of the disciplinary proceedings in the amount of $25,247.99, and to pay an administrative fee of $500.00 to the Wyoming State Bar.

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