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In re Hemmann

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 7, 2019


         State Bar of Georgia

         Jenny K. Mittelman, Paula J. Frederick, General Counsel, William Dallas NeSmith, III, Deputy General Counsel, STATE BAR OF GEORGIA, for Appellant.

         David S. Lipscomb, SPENCER LAW, LLC, for the Appellee.

         Herman Maddox Kilgore, KILGORE & RODRIGUEZ LLC, Adam Marshall Hames, THE HAMES LAW FIRM, LLC, for Other Party


          PER CURIAM.

Page 106

          This is the second appearance before us of this disciplinary matter involving Denise F. Hemmann (State Bar No. 345025), who has been a member of the Bar since 1981. In the initial appearance of this matter, we rejected Hemmann’s petition for voluntary discipline on the basis that the sanction proposed by Hemmann and recommended by special master Adam Hames — a public reprimand — appeared insufficient in light of Hemmann’s prior disciplinary history, which included being previously sanctioned four times, and the lack of clarity as to whether the misconduct currently at issue was similar to her prior misconduct. See In the Matter of Hemmann, 304 Ga. 632, 632, 820 S.E.2d 671 (2018). Specifically, we were concerned that "the current record does not reveal whether those prior incidents of misconduct involved similar violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which could show that Hemmann continues to engage in misconduct involving the abandonment of legal matters entrusted to her by clients, failure to communicate with those clients, and failure to properly withdraw from representation despite her prior admonitions and reprimand," particularly in light of the fact that the present matter was Hemmann’s fifth violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Id. at 635, 820 S.E.2d 671. Following our rejection of her petition, Hemmann filed another petition for voluntary discipline, again seeking a public reprimand; the State Bar filed a response recommending that Hemmann’s petition be accepted; and the special master filed a report recommending that we accept the petition and impose a public reprimand.

          As we previously recounted,

Hemmann admits that in January 2015, she executed a written agreement with a client to represent him on a claim for damages against an at-fault driver for a minor soft tissue injury to his shoulder that he sustained in an August 2014 automobile accident, as well as a workers’ compensation claim because the accident occurred while he was operating his employer’s vehicle. Less than a month after the representation agreement was executed, Hemmann sent letters notifying Allstate Insurance Company (the at-fault driver’s insurance company) and Travelers Insurance Company (the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier) that she was representing the client, and she also filed a WC-14 Notice of Claim with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation on the client’s behalf. In March 2015, Hemmann sent the client a copy of the filed WC-14 Notice of Claim and a letter she received from Travelers confirming the claim number and the adjuster’s name in the workers’ compensation case.
Thereafter, however, Hemmann took no further action to advance either the personal injury case or the workers’ compensation case. In May 2015, Hemmann spoke to the client on the phone regarding the matters she was handling on his behalf and confirmed the conversation in a letter to the client on the same date. After that, the client was unable to obtain information from Hemmann regarding either matter, even though he left phone messages with Hemmann’s secretary and sent Hemmann an e-mail in July 2015. On December 11, 2015, the client sent Hemmann a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with her failure to communicate with him, and on December 30, 2015, Hemmann sent him a letter stating that she would take no further action on his behalf in relation to the personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. The client alleges that he never received the December 30 letter, and Hemmann admits that the client may not have received it. Hemmann further admits that she did not notify the Board of Workers’ Compensation until June 2018 that she was withdrawing from representing the client, having the mistaken belief that no withdrawal was necessary in workers’ compensation matters, and that she never notified Allstate or Travelers that she was no longer representing the client.

Id. at 632-633, 820 S.E.2d 671.

         As before, the special master concludes that Hemmann violated Rule 1.3 by willfully

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abandoning the client’s personal injury and workers’ compensation cases, violated Rule 1.4 when she failed to communicate with the client about the status of his legal matters, and violated Rule 1.16 (c) by ceasing work on the client’s legal matters and in effect withdrawing without taking steps to protect his interests. The maximum penalty for a violation of Rule 1.3 is disbarment, while the maximum penalty for a violation of Rules 1.4 and 1.16 is normally a public reprimand; however, pursuant to Bar Rule 4-103, a finding of a third or subsequent disciplinary violation ...

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