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Wyoming Supreme Court suspends Casper attorney for three years over conduct violations in divorce case

(File photo, Trevor T. Trujillo; Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming State Bar said in a press release that the Wyoming Supreme Court has ordered a three-year suspension of Casper attorney Donald J. Tolin effective Wednesday, January 5.

Tolin is being suspended from practicing law for three years after violating “numerous Rules of Professional Conduct” in and relating to a divorce proceeding, according to the press release.

“He admitted violating Rule 1.2 (scope of representation and allocation of authority between client and lawyer) by failing to comply with his client’s directives,” the release states. “He violated Rule 1.3 (diligence) and Rule 3.2 (expediting litigation) by neglecting the case for several months. He violated Rule 1.4 (communication with client) by failing to respond to numerous inquiries from his client.”

“Tolin further conceded violations of Rule 1.5 (fees) by failing to exercise professional billing judgment and excessive charges, including charging for clerical tasks at his lawyer hourly rate. Tolin violated Rule 3.4(c) (duty to abide by the rules of the tribunal) by willfully violating a court order for mediation of the case. Tolin’s conduct also violated Rule 801(a)(3) and (5) (standards of professional behavior) of the Uniform Rules for District Courts of the State of Wyoming. Tolin further admitted that his failure to cooperate with the disciplinary investigation violated Rule 8.1.”

In addition to being suspended from practicing law for three years, the Supreme Court ordered Tolin to pay administrative fees of $750 and costs of $50 to the Wyoming State Bar. He was also ordered to refund $1,500 to his client in the divorce proceeding.

The press release describes the context of the matter as follows:

In 2019, Wife hired Tolin to represent her in a divorce proceeding and paid Tolin a non-refundable “availability retainer” of $5,000.00. The “availability retainer” was not a flat fee; Tolin’s representation agreement stated that Wife was responsible for fees incurred after the $5,000.00 was exhausted. Wife’s husband filed for divorce in April 2020. From June 2019 -August 10, 2020, Wife expressed repeated requests that marital assets should be preserved and expressed concerns about the depletion of marital assets by Husband. After the divorce complaint was filed, Wife immediately began requesting a full accounting of Husband’s assets. She repeatedly asked Tolin about the status of initial disclosures and emphasized the importance of receiving Husband’s initial disclosures and beginning the discovery process based upon her fears that Husband was improperly utilizing and hiding marital assets. Initial disclosures were due in May 2020, and although the deadline may be extended by agreement of the parties, Wife required the commencement of the discovery process. Tolin’s representation was terminated on August 18, 2020. Despite Wife’s repeated directives to exchange initial disclosures and commence discovery, Tolin never did so. Despite expressing fears since June 2019 that her husband was hiding assets and demanding a full accounting, Tolin never requested an accounting from Wife’s husband.

In June 2020, the District Court ordered a mediation prior to setting a trial as requested by Husband. Between July 2 and August 10, 2020, the mediator proposed twenty-eight possible mediation dates spanning from August 25 through October 30, 2020, most of which were agreed upon by opposing counsel. Tolin did not respond timely to several requests and stated he was unavailable for all dates, prompting communications and concerns from Husband’s attorney and the mediator regarding the delay in resolving the matter since a trial could not occur until the court-ordered mediation took place. Tolin did not communicate with Wife about any proposed dates nor notify her of the identity of the mediator until August 10, 2020, at which time, he learned that Wife had a conflict with the proposed mediator.

As soon as Tolin’s representation was terminated, Wife thrice requested invoices reflecting the time spent on the case and requested a refund of funds not utilized, which she never received. During the fourteen months Tolin represented Wife, he never sent an invoice, even after expressly requested, and did not communicate that Wife’s “availability retainer” had purportedly been exhausted. 

In October 2020, the Office of Bar Counsel (“OBC”) commenced an investigation into Wife’s complaint. Between October 1 – November 17, 2020, the OBC requested Tolin’s time compilation and invoices on four occasions. Tolin did not provide the compilation or request extensions of time to provide the compilation. Tolin did not respond to the OBC’s last inquiry despite the OBC’s warning that failing to comply would result in a Formal Charge alleging violations of Rule 8.1(b). On January 13, 2021, the Wyoming Supreme Court entered an Order of Immediate Suspension based upon Tolin’s failure to cooperate with the OBC.

After the suspension, Tolin provided a time compilation and invoice to the OBC. The invoices reflect that that he repeatedly charged $20.00 for texts and emails containing little information or containing information unrelated to legal issues, such as information about Tolin’s grandchild. Many of the texts and emails occurred on the same day, resulting in multiple charges for individual texts and emails even though the sum of the time spent responding to the emails or texts was not more than the amount billed for sending just one response. Tolin also charged separately for listening to voicemails even when performing other services the same day, such as speaking with Wife after billing her $20.00 separately for listening to the voicemail. In addition, on April 4, 2020, Tolin charged $80.00 for the following services by separately charging $20.00 for each item:

o  Reviewing a voicemail;

o  Sending the following texts:

§ “[Wife]: Received your message. Can you please Scan and email me the paperwork you were served today.”

§ “Welcome. Don’t stress.”

§ “Received. Thanks. I’ll review and get back to you.”

Tolin charged $240.00 for other legal services on the same day. Tolin also billed his hourly rate for clerical/secretarial tasks such as preparation of transmittal letters, sending faxes, and calls to the clerk of court.

Wyoming State Bar

The Wyoming Supreme Court’s full Order of Suspension is available online.

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