Brentwood lawyer Connie Reguli has been suspended from practicing law after the Supreme Court upheld a Board of Professional Responsibility panel’s discipline.
Brentwood lawyer Connie Reguli, who ran against Rep. Charles Sargent in 2008 for his state House seat, has been suspended from practicing law after the Supreme Court upheld a Board of Professional Responsibility panel’s discipline, as well as a Williamson County Circuit Court order for her to pay restitution to a former client.
The Board filed a petition to discipline Reguli in July of 2012 based on three complaints of misconduct, including her representation of Robert Castleman, false claims on her website about her professional certification and her representation of Sayuri Pope.
In July of 2011, Reguli and Castleman entered into a written fee agreement for Reguli to represent Castleman in his divorce proceeding. Castleman paid Reguli $10,000 and signed the fee agreement. The funds were put into an escrow account and fees were taken from that.
The fee agreement said that once the full amount of the retainer was used for legal services, additional money might be required and that if the services were completed before the funds ran out, the return of the funds would be at the discretion of the firm in accordance with the Formal Ethics Opinion.
Reguli testified that she went over the Formal Ethics Opinion with Castleman, but didn’t provide him with a copy. Castleman testified that he only read two paragraphs of the agreement and didn’t feel the need to ask questions because he trusted Reguli.
Three to four weeks into the agreement, Castleman discharged Reguli as his lawyer. He testified that he had tried to contact her about accounting of the time she spend on the case and to recoup the unearned portion of the fee. His calls and voicemails went unanswered. In September of 2011 Castleman sent Reguli a formal letter requesting itemized billing and a refund of the balance. He testified that he did not receive either from Reguli. Reguli testified that she did provide Castleman with an account of the time spent on his case.
At the hearing, Reguli produced an accounting and listed billed hours and fees of $2,082.50 and expenses of $116.75, totaling $2,199.25 charged against the $10,000 retainer. Reguli did not refund the balance of the retainer to Castleman, who filed a complaint with the Board in October of 2011.
The Board then requested the billing records in January and February of 2012. Reguli did not produce the billing records until the November 2013 hearing.
In November of 2011, attorney David Johnson filed a complaint alleging that Reguli’s website misrepresented her as a certified specialist in family law and divorce. Reguli later admitted that she was not certified as a specialist in family law and divorce, and said that she didn’t put the certification information on her website and wasn’t aware that her website listed her as certified.
She blamed the mistake on website hosting company FirmSite, and said that when she received the Johnson complaint she was ill with cancer. She contacted FirmSite to correct the website in the spring of 2012.
The third complaint was filed by Janson Pope. Reguli represented Sayuri Pope in a divorce proceeding against Janson. Mr. Pope alleged that Reguli drafted and filed an order with a court that didn’t correctly reflect a judgment against Ms. Pope.
Reguli testified that the trail court awarded Mr. Pope with periodic alimony payments but did not prescribe when the payments would stop. Mr. Pope’s attorney filed a petition for contempt alleging that Ms. Pope was in contempt for failure to make the alimony payments. The court held a hearing on the motion and issued a ruling from the bench.
Mr. Pope’s attorney and Reguli submitted different orders to the trial court. The trial court judge signed an order prepared by Reguli. Mr. Pope later filed a motion that alleged an order Reguli had drafted didn’t accurately reflect the court’s decision. The court modified its earlier ruling and awarded Mr. Pope $1,000 for attorney fees.
Reguli denied all of these claims and requested they be overturned, as well as that Disciplinary Counsel Krisann Hodges be disqualified from her position. In July of 2013, the panel denied Reguli’s requests. The panel held a hearing on Nov. 13 and 14 of 2013 and entered its findings.
In the Castleman complaint, the Panel found that Castleman sought to discharge Reguli and requested an accounting of fees earned, and that Reguli’s failure to provide the Board with an accounting showed that no accounting existed. They also found that “some seven thousand dollars” of the fee that Reguli didn’t refund was unreasonable for the actual work she provided.
In the website complaint, the Panel found that the website did falsely state that she had certifications and specialties in family law and divorce and that she was in violation of the law.
The Panel dismissed the Board’s claim about alleged misconduct in the Pope divorce, finding insufficient proof.
The Panel considered the prior professional discipline of Reguli, which included serving 10 days in jail for contempt of court and other complaints to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, her failure to respond to requests for information by the Board, refusal to recognize the wrongful nature of her conduct, and her substantial experience in the practice of law.
The Panel imposed an 11 month, 29 day suspension of Reguli from practicing law in Tennessee, to be served on probation subject to certain conditions.
The trial court affirmed the Panel’s findings but modified its sanctions by reducing Reguli’s suspension to just 60 days, all of which the court suspended with no active time served.
They placed Reguli on probation for one year subject to supervision of a probation monitor, requring her to serve a six month active suspension should she violate any terms of her probation. The trial court also ordered Reguli to pay restitution to Castleman in the amount of $7,800.
The Panel then went against that and reinstated their original sanction. Reguli is suspended from the practice of law in Tennessee for 11 months and 29 days, all of which she may serve on probation subject to conditions that she pay Castleman restitution and submit to a probation monitor and an evaluation by Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program.
Reguli’s law office in Brentwood, Law Care Family Law Center, is located at 1646 Westgate Circle, Suite 101.
Samantha Hearn reports for Home Page Media Group. She can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @samanthahearn.