Robert F. Arentz
Bar No. 005376
Case Nos. 06-1138, 06-1212, 06-1582, 07-0887, 07-0889, 07-0890, 07-0891, 07-0894, 07-0895, 07-1326, 07-1342, 07-1885 (as related to 05-1161 et al)
Supreme Court No. SB-10-0036-D
By Arizona Supreme Court judgment and order dated June 24, 2010, as amended July 14, 2010, Robert F. Arentz, 20 E. Thomas, Suite 2600, Phoenix, Arizona, was suspended for 60 days, effective July 1, 2010. Mr. Arentz was also placed on probation for two years, ordered to pay restitution and the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings applicable to him.
Mr. Arentz was the supervisor of the criminal division of Phillips and Associates. He was responsible for setting policy, billing, accounting, and intake procedures for that criminal division. Mr. Arentz was also responsible for setting fees, assigning cases, managing caseloads and determining refunds to clients.
This proceeding encompassed findings of misconduct in six matters.
In the first matter, Phillips and Associates was retained for pre-charging representation of a client who was being investigated for a crime. The assigned lawyer advised the client not to speak with law enforcement, had a conversation with law enforcement and wrote a letter declining an interview on behalf of the client. The client later terminated the firms services. An administrator attempted to dissuade the client from terminating the representation. The client was charged $6,900 for services and $4,000 was refunded, leaving $2,900 paid. The fee was found to be unreasonable for the services rendered. As the criminal supervisor, Mr. Arentz was responsible for ensuring that a reasonable fee was charged and a refund was made.
In the second matter, a family member retained Phillips and Associates in an effort to obtain a reduction in his sons sentence. The son had already entered into a plea agreement but wanted a less severe prison term than the 3.5 years required by the plea agreement. The fee agreement defined the scope of services to be provided by Phillips and Associates as mitigation of sentencing. Neither the family member nor the son was told initially that the son would have to withdraw from the plea agreement to obtain a reduction in the sentence. The son was sentenced to 3.5 years per the plea agreement and the assigned Phillips and Associate lawyer did not seek to have the sentence mitigated. The family member was misled as to the scope of the services and the ease or difficulty of attaining his goal, in part due to the firms retention practices.
In the third matter, the client was arrested on July 14, 2005, as a suspect in an armed robbery. On the same day, the clients friend arranged for representation by Phillips and Associates for a fee of $35,000; $18,000 of which was charged on a credit card, with the remainder to come from refinancing a house. By the next day, the client was released from jail and was never charged in the crime. The client advised Phillips and Associates of this. However, the firm did not refund $16,000 of the $18,000 payment until the end of December, 2005. An administrator in the firm impeded the processing of the refund request and the firm failed to have in place policies to prevent the difficulty in obtaining a refund. Mr. Arentz supervised the refund process.
In the fourth matter, a mother hired Phillips and Associates to obtain a reduction in the sentence for her son. He had signed a plea stipulating to 2.5 years in prison. The mother paid $5,000 and believed that something would be done to reduce the sentence as the administrator told her it would. Instead, the Phillips and Associates lawyer appeared at the sentencing hearing and advised the son to accept the sentence provided for by the plea. The mother was upset, returned to speak with Phillips and Associates and requested a refund. She did not receive a refund. The mother and client were charged an unreasonable fee and were not given the proper information about their options so that an informed decision about whether to retain Phillips and Associates could be made.
In the fifth matter, the client had received a notice that his request to reinstate his drivers license had been denied due to an unadjudicated DUI. To appeal the ruling he needed to request a hearing within 15 days. Four days before the request deadline, the clients mother hired Phillips and Associates to represent her son. A bankruptcy lawyer, not a lawyer experienced in criminal matters, consulted with her. The clients mother advised Phillips and Associates of the deadline for filing a hearing on more than one occasion. Mr. Arentz and the lawyer assigned to the case believed that requesting a hearing would be futile because of the reason for the denial. However, they did not communicate their concern to either the client or the mother. The hearing was not requested timely and a warrant for the client was ultimately issued when the unadjudicated DUI was filed. Phillips and Associates wanted $18,000 to handle the case, with credit being given for $2,090 already paid. The client and his mother declined the representation and requested a refund that Mr. Arentz denied. The client received a full refund after filing a bar complaint. Phillips and Associates should not have accepted representation without advising the client that he would not be able to reinstate his drivers license until the unadjudicated charge was cleared.
In the sixth matter, the client retained Phillips and Associates to represent him in a DUI. He agreed to pay a fee of $6,990 and allowed $3, 090 to be withdrawn from his checking account. The client met with a firm administrator and a bankruptcy attorney at intake. Later that day, the client met with a lawyer from another firm and left a message that evening with the Phillips administrator stating he had reconsidered and wanted to cancel the contract. The client was pressured not to cancel and told that stopping payment on the check was a crime. The client was in the process of becoming a United States citizen. The client called Phillips and Associates from his new lawyers office to obtain his paperwork. During the call, a Phillips and Associates employee harassed the client, accused him of committing fraud, and lied to him about the status of the proceedings. When the employee was asked his name, he abruptly hung up. Mr. Arentz failed to give reasonable assurance that the firm employees conduct was compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyers in the firm.
Five aggravating factors were found: dishonest or selfish motive, multiple offenses, refusal to acknowledge wrongful nature of conduct, vulnerability of victim, and substantial experience in the practice of law.
Five mitigating factors were found: absence of a prior disciplinary record, full and free disclosure to the State Bar, delay in disciplinary proceedings, willingness to remedy practices, and character.
Mr. Arentz violated Rule 42, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct., ERs 1.5(a), 5.1(a), 5.1(b), 5.3(a), and 5.3(b).
Montano Arentz & Handler, PLLC
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