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In re Lee

Supreme Court of Arizona

November 18, 1940

In the Matter of JOHN C. LEE, a Member of the State Bar

Original proceeding in disbarment under "State Bar Act" and upon record filed in Supreme Court by Board of Governors of State Bar of Arizona. Respondent suspended.

Mr. J. S. Wheeler, for State Bar of Arizona.

Mr. John W. Ray, for Respondent.

OPINION

ROSS, C.J.

On March 1, 1940, R. E. Brock filed charges of unprofessional conduct against John C. Lee, a member of the bar of this state. The substance of such charges was that in April, 1937, he employed Lee to foreclose two mortgages, the mortgagors in each being the same, one of such mortgages being for $1,300 and interest and the other for $4,591.41 and [56 Ariz. 286] interest; that he had an agreement with Lee to attend to the foreclosure action and to secure sheriff's deed for a fee of $150; that Lee collected and retained as his fee over $1,000.

The matter was heard by the local administrative committee of the state bar, consisting of three members, at which hearing respondent was present and was heard. The proceedings were stenographically reported and a transcription thereof is in the files. The local committee found respondent guilty of unethical conduct and recommended that he be disbarred. This recommendation and the record of the local committee were thereafter lodged, as the statute requires (sec. 35, chap. 66, Laws of 1933), with the Board of Governors of the State Bar, and this body gave respondent an opportunity to be heard. At such hearing he was present in person and represented by his attorney. The Board of Governors has filed with this court, without recommendation, all the evidence in both proceedings.

The respondent contends that there was no agreement between him and Brock as to what his fee should be, and we think the evidence sustains him in that contention. The respondent, then, in the absence of such agreement, was entitled to reasonable compensation for his services.

From the beginning we think it was apparent, to anyone familiar with the situation, that much less than the face of the two mortgages would be realized. The mortgaged property consisted of sixty acres of farming land situated in the Buckeys Irrigation District, Maricopa County, Arizona. There were several years of unpaid back taxes due; water assessments were due the irrigation district, and there was a small prior mortgage against the property.

Pending the litigation, the property was sold for a consideration of $3,000. Of this amount, as near [56 Ariz. 287] as we can tell from the records, respondent got $1,521.04 and out of this amount paid court costs and other expenses in the sum of $187.22. The balance of the purchase price may be roughly accounted for as follows: $500 to $600 were laid out for taxes and water assessments and what was left went to Brock or his agents. The last payment on the purchase price was $1,166.71 and was made to respondent on November 24, 1939, throught the Arizona Title Guarantee & Trust Company, with thich the money to make said payment had been left with instructions to pay the same to respondent or Brock when the title company approved the title to the property. Respondent did not report such payment to Brock until January 25, 1940.The last payment was evidenced by a note of the purchaser, made payable to Brock and respondent jointly, and was secured by a mortgage on the premises. It appears from Brock's affidavit of charges that the note was made payable to him and respondent without his knowledge or authorization. There is testimony, however, showing that it was made to Lee also with Brock's knowledge and consent. When the purchaser paid the note and mortgage to the title company, the latter mailed to Brock in Batesville, Arkansas, where he resided, a satisfaction of the

Page 223

mortgage, or a statement that the mortgage had been paid. The letter Brock wrote respondent when he received such information does not appear in the files, but the following letter from respondent to Brock is evidently an answer thereto:

"Phoenix, Arizona

"January 25, 1940

"Mr. Robert E. ...


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