In the Matter of Shane O. Rios (admitted as Shane Omar Rios), and Daniel H. Levy (admitted as Daniel Hudson Levy), attorneys and counselors-at-law: Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, Petitioner, Shane O. Rios, Daniel H. Levy, Respondents.
Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondents, Shane O. Rios and Daniel H. Levy, were admitted to the Bar of the State of New York at a Term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Second Judicial Department on June 15, 2005 and February 16, 2005, respectively.
Jorge Dopico, Chief Counsel, Departmental Disciplinary Committee, New York (Norma I. Melendez, of counsel), for petitioner.
Susan Brotman, for respondents.
Luis A. Gonzalez,Presiding Justice, David B. Saxe, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels, Nelson S. Román, Darcel D. Clark, Justices.
Respondents Shane Omar Rios and Daniel Hudson Levy were admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the Second Judicial Department on June 15, 2005 and February 16, 2005, respectively. At all times relevant to this proceeding, respondents maintained an office for the practice of law within the First Judicial Department.
On May 18, 2011, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (Committee) served respondents with a notice and statement of charges containing three charges alleging professional misconduct stemming from respondents' representation of a client in a personal injury matter.
Charge one of the Committee's statement of charges alleged that respondents violated rule 8.4(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0), which prohibits an attorney from engaging in conduct involving "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." Specifically, the Committee alleged that respondents intentionally concealed investigative information regarding their client's case from an attorney whom they retained to try the client's personal injury lawsuit.
Charge two alleged that respondents violated rule 8.4(h) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0), which prohibits an attorney from engaging in any conduct that adversely reflects on his or her fitness as an attorney, by informing their client about the law governing liability for her accident prior to asking her to identify the precise situs of her accident.
Charge three alleged that respondents violated rule 1.1(b)  of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0), which prohibits a lawyer from handling a legal matter that he or she "knows or should know that the lawyer is not competent to handle, without associating with a lawyer who is competent to handle it." The Committee alleged that respondents violated this rule by failing to ascertain the precise location of their client's accident in a nonsuggestive manner and by failing to inquire about their client's criminal history after she acknowledged that she had a Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) conviction.
On June 16, 2011, respondents submitted an answer to the statement of charges wherein they admitted each and every factual allegation therein. Respondents also admitted that they violated the rules alleged in charges two and three, thus admitting liability as to those charges. However, they denied liability as to charge one.
Thereafter, on August 16, 2011, the parties appeared for a hearing before a Referee. All parties executed a pre-hearing stipulation, wherein respondents once again admitted the facts alleged in the Committee's statement of charges. Whereas respondents had initially denied liability as to charge one and admitted liability as to charges two and three, in the stipulation respondents admitted liability as to charges one and two and only admitted partial liability as to charge three. Specifically, while respondents admitted that they violated rule 1.1(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0) by failing to ascertain the precise location of their client's accident in a nonsuggestive manner, they opposed the portion of charge three which alleged that they failed to ask about their client's criminal history in violation rule 1.1(b).
Respondents' testimony at the hearing, the testimony of five character witnesses, and documents stipulated and/or admitted in evidence - including the aforementioned pre-hearing stipulation - established the following:
In January 2008, respondents, who met while they both attended Fordham Law School, opened Rios & Levy LLP., their own firm focusing on personal injury matters. Even though neither respondent had ever handled a personal injury matter from start to finish, respondents, both of whom had worked for other personal injury law firms since their graduation from law school in 2004, believed they could amass the requisite experience during the pendency of the cases for which they were retained. On March 20, 2008, respondents were contacted by a former client who sought to have respondents meet with her mother regarding an injury sustained by the client's mother in a fall. Respondents met with this prospective client at her home and she told them that she fell on a badly cracked sidewalk while exiting a church on Lockwood Avenue, in the Bronx. While the ...