Along the way to becoming one of the city's most influential figures, politically wired attorney Willie Shepherd bullied, belittled, lied, and then some. And his fellow partners at Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert failed to stop him until two junior attorneys took a stand.
IX. THE COMPLAINT
Colorado attorneys must adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which state precepts such as, "a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation," and that it is a violation to "engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." The Colorado Supreme Court is responsible for enforcing the rules, and it relies on the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (OARC) to investigate allegations of misconduct and then either dismisses the matter or determines it can prove the allegations "by clear and convincing evidence." The OARC has the ability to subpoena witnesses and records. It does not, however, make disciplinary decisions on its own. If the OARC determines there is probable cause for a case against an attorney, it presents its case to the Attorney Regulation Committee.
Comprised of six attorneys and three nonlawyers, all volunteers recruited from around the state and appointed by the state Supreme Court, the committee acts as a grand jury. The members review OARC's case and either accept or reject its request for "formal proceedings," which means a trial held before a three-member panel. The OARC can make other disciplinary recommendations, such as dismissing the allegations, privately reprimanding the attorney for minor offenses, imposing a form of diversion such as ethics training, or, for offenses the OARC believes merit something more severe than a private reprimand, it can suggest the attorney be publicly censured. Even if the committee agrees that a trial is in order, the OARC has the power to enter into mediation, essentially a plea bargain, with the attorney in question.
On May 7, 2009, more than two months after Staks and Almon left KSR, they jointly filed a complaint about Shepherd with the OARC. The seven-page letter was a refined version of their original memo to Ray Gifford and Brian Jumps. In language tailored to the specifics of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Staks and Almon laid out how the two attorneys believed Shepherd had violated at least a half dozen rules. The official allegations included: "breach of duty of client loyalty," "failure to obtain or report conflicts of interest," "misrepresentation generally," "misrepresentation of personal history and legal clients," "billing practices," and "fraud, theft, and misuse of firm money."
The latter accusation stemmed from information the two gleaned while working with Shepherd's former assistant, Stephanie Estabrook. According to Estabrook, Shepherd had her fabricate invoices from charities for donations Shepherd said he'd made. Shepherd would then have an assistant immediately take those invoices to the firm's financial administrator and demand to be reimbursed. Estabrook shared with Staks and Almon that, around August 2008, the month of the convention, Shepherd had her fabricate two invoices from the Colorado Symphony, each for $7,000. Estabrook said that he had her copy the format from the symphony's website. Estabrook became so concerned that this was wrong that she saved the invoices on her office hard drive; she'd added letters to the "invoice" numbers in order to distinguish them from authentic ones.
Staks and Almon delayed filing their complaint for several reasons: There was the practical endeavor of trying to assimilate into their new jobs at Ireland Stapleton. Also, as Staks says, after Almon delivered the February 27 memo to the partners, the two lawyers figured there was no way their former firm would not report Shepherd to the OARC. If the firm reported Shepherd, Staks and Almon figured they would have done their part and justice would be done. And there was this: When Almon left KSR, she entered into talks regarding a severance agreement with the firm. According to Staks, Almon signed a separation agreement that not only precluded her from saying anything disparaging about the firm, but also precluded her from going to the OARC with a complaint, unless she was advised to do so by an attorney. According to Staks, Almon agreed to this point reluctantly, and only after being assured by the firm that it would deal with Shepherd.
On March 24, 2009, about one month after Staks and Almon quit, KSR sent a letter to OARC that was signed by the firm's chief legal officer, Stephen D. Gurr, and by Willie E. Shepherd. The letter read: "On behalf of Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert, LLP, I am making this report pursuant to RPC 8.3. This report involves the actions of Willie E. Shepherd, Jr. who joins this report as a self-report." The self-report confirmed that Shepherd had sent an e-mail to DuPont's legal department "in an attempt to get the firm qualified for DuPont's Diverse Legal Supplier Network. That e-mail misrepresented the equity ownership of the firm. Mr. Shepherd sent subsequent misleading e-mails in furtherance of the effort to qualify as a minority/woman-owned law firm." The self-report made a point of mentioning that "the firm recently learned of these e-mails." There was no mention of any of the other misconduct that Staks and Almon had put in their memo or had discussed at the Market with Reichert and Gifford.
One interpretation of this self-report was that Norman Mueller of the esteemed law firm of Haddon, Morgan and Foreman had completed his investigation into the allegations raised in the memo and had found that this was the only allegation of merit. Another possible interpretation of the self-report was that Mueller's investigation was not quite as thorough as Kamlet Reichert wanted the OARC to believe. Certainly, that was how Staks and Almon interpreted it. Staks and Almon consulted with an attorney, Marcy Glenn of the firm Holland & Hart, who advised them to file their own complaint.
The Shepherd matter found its way to the desk of the top-ranking official in OARC, the Supreme Court regulation counsel. The regulation counsel, John Gleason, is a lawyer appointed by, and serving at the pleasure of, the court. Before he signed on with OARC as an investigator more than 20 years ago, Gleason was a private-practice attorney. Before becoming a lawyer, he had been a cop and worked in a bomb unit. Gleason was uniquely equipped to recognize the explosive nature of the Shepherd complaint. Assistant regulation counsel Lisa Frankel and investigator Janet Layne were assigned to the matter, and, as he says, "at every turn I was involved" in this case. If the OARC determined there was probable cause for the allegations of misconduct, and it moved for trial, Shepherd could have his license suspended or be disbarred. A trial would be public and might give rise to other questions about who in KSR knew what and when. What's more, the OARC could inform the district attorney's office of criminal conduct.