October 27, 2016
from Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk,
F. Sullivan, for the appellant (respondent).
L. Carrasquilla, chief disciplinary counsel, for the appellee
Lavine, Beach and Keller, Js. [*]
respondent, Judith B. Sporn, appeals from the judgment of the
trial court suspending her from the practice of law for
violating several Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice
Book § 2-27. She claims on appeal that the court abused
its discretion by: (1) granting the motion in limine of the
petitioner, Disciplinary Counsel, seeking to preclude
proposed expert testimony on the subject of immigration law;
and (2) imposing a two year suspension. We affirm the
judgment of the court.
appeal arises from three grievance actions commenced against
the respondent in 2013 and 2014. The following facts
underlying these actions, as found by the court, are
pertinent to our discussion.
first grievance action concerned the respondent's
representation of Line Christoffersen. Christoffersen, a
citizen of Denmark who came to the United States on a J-1
(exchange) visa, retained the respondent in January, 2010, to
assist in filing an application to become a United States
permanent resident, also known as a green card application.
Christoffersen paid the respondent $1365 for this task. The
respondent did not provide Christoffersen with a written fee
agreement, nor did she place the fee into a separate client
sought to apply for the green card on the basis of her
marriage to a United States citizen. In the months after she
retained the respondent, Christoffersen attempted to contact
her to inquire about the status of her application. The
respondent, however, did not return her calls. In September,
2010, Christoffersen and her husband separated. Because of
this, Christoffersen went to the respondent's office that
same month to instruct her to stop the application process.
As of the time of that meeting, the respondent had yet to
begin work on Christoffersen's green card application.
respondent then suggested that Christoffersen file a petition
for lawful resident status as a battered or abused spouse
under the Violence Against Women Act, also known as an I-360
petition. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 (a) (51) (A), 1154
(a) (iii) (2012). Once approved, an I-360 petition permits
the battered or abused spouse to apply to adjust his or her
status to that of permanent resident. See 8 U.S.C. §
1255 (a) (2012). The basis of the I-360 petition in
Christoffersen's case was that her husband was cruel and
abusive to her. Christoffersen did not pay an additional fee
for this task. The respondent did not provide Christoffersen
with a written fee agreement relating to this representation.
the following months, Christoffersen attempted to contact the
respondent to inquire about the I-360 petition, but the
respondent did not respond. The respondent did not file the
I-360 petition until March, 2012. Christoffersen terminated
the representation in the summer or at the endof2012.
Christoffersen's I-360 petition was approved in April,
2013. At the time of the trial underlying the present appeal,
however, Christoffersen had yet to apply to adjust her status
to that of permanent resident. She testified that she did not
want to pursue such status because she believed that she did
not qualify as an abused spouse and would be deceiving
immigration authorities if she did. At the time of the trial,
Christoffersen did not have permanent resident status.
second and third grievance actions commenced against the
respondent concerned her representation of Valent Kolami and
Adrian Emin, brothers-in-law from Albania who originally
entered the United States on visitor's visas around 2000.
Kolami and Emin retained the respondent in 2003 to appeal to
the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) following its denial
of their applications for political asylum. Each paid the
respondent a $2500 fee. The respondent did not provide either
of them with a written fee agreement, nor did she place the
fees into a separate client trust account.
respondent filed appellate briefs before the BIA for Kolami
and Emin. The BIA, however, returned the Kolami brief because
the respondent certified service to Hartford instead of to
New York. In the meantime, the filing deadline for the brief
had passed. The respondent therefore moved to late file it.
According to the respondent's testimony, she did not
receive notice of the disposition of the appeals, nor did she
follow up in order to ascertain those dispositions, until
2011. Both Kolami and Emin went to the respondent's
office frequently between 2003 and 2011 to inquire about the
status of their appeals. Each time the respondent told them
that she was still awaiting decisions.
August, 2011, agents from United States Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Kolami and Emin. The
respondent learned that the appeals to the BIA had in fact
been dismissed in 2004-Emin's on the merits, and
Kolami's because the brief was untimely filed. The
respondent filed stays of removal for Kolami and Emin, a task
for which each paid the respondent an additional $2500. The
respondent did not provide either of them with a written fee
agreement. The respondent did not place the fees into a
separate client trust account. The stays, and two more that
the respondent sought subsequently, were granted. When the
fourth set of stays was denied, the respondent told Kolami
and Emin that she could no longer represent them and referred
them to a colleague. In April, 2012, Kolami and Emin were
again detained by ICE. This time, however, Kolami was held in
detention for eighteen months, and Emin for sixteen months.
the court found that the respondent did not maintain a
registered IOLTA account until the spring of 2015, despite the
fact that she completed a continuing legal education program
in ethics in 2012 pursuant to an order arising out of a
previous grievance action.
three day trial, the court, Heller, J., for reasons
set forth more fully below, concluded that the respondent had
violated rules 1.1 (competence), 1.3 (diligence), 1.4
(communication), 1.5 (b) (written fee agreements), and 1.15
(b), (d) and (i) (safekeeping of client property) of the
Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as Practice Book
§ 2-27 (clients' funds). After considering the
factors set forth in the American Bar Association's
Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (ABA factors); see
Burton v. Mottolese, 267 Conn. 1, 55-56, 835 A.2d
998 (2003), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1073, 124 S.Ct. 2422, ...