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Judges approve ‘lenient’ suspension for attorney

Judges who first rejected a mere reprimand for a lawyer who undermined subrogation rights in settlement of a UIM claim have approved a 60-day suspension in a second Virginia State Bar discipline hearing.

In addition to the 60-day suspension, Fairfax lawyer Peter M. Baskin must take an added six hours of legal education related to practice management.

Stafford County Circuit Judge Victoria A.B. Willis – chief judge of the three-member panel – said Aug. 16 the judges regarded the suspension penalty as “extremely lenient,” but were willing to approve the deal with bar prosecutors.

The same judges rejected a proposed public reprimand on Aug. 7, questioning how an experienced lawyer could unwittingly sell out an insurer’s subrogation rights.

Motorcycle wreck

Baskin’s client was a 24-year-old motorcycle operator injured in a collision with an uninsured car. Baskin persuaded the car’s driver to pay $20,000 in exchange for a release. On the same day, Baskin accepted the UIM carrier’s limits of $25,000, but did not get the carrier to waive its subrogation rights.

When the UIM carrier discovered it had lost its right to sue the car’s driver, it filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Baskin’s client, the motorcycle rider.

The judges on the discipline panel were openly skeptical of Baskin’s explanations for the “mistake” in the Aug. 7 conference call hearing. The judges said any discipline should include a license suspension and remedial terms.

Second deal proposed

Lawyers for Baskin and the bar offered a second proposed agreed disposition on Aug. 16. The proposal was for a 60-day suspension to start Sept. 1 with a requirement that Baskin attend six hours of CLE on trust accounting. The scope of the CLE requirement was expanded to include law office management. If Baskin failed to meet the required CLE hours, the agreement called for an additional one-year suspension.

After deliberation, the judges announced approval, but with reservations.

“There is true concern with regard to these actions,” Willis said. The fact that Baskin later made the parties whole did not obviate the lawyer’s misdeeds, Willis continued.

Willis said the panel was willing to accept the agreed 60-day suspension, but said, “We believe the outcome is extremely lenient.”

The other judges on the panel were retired Judge Edward L. Hogshire of Charlottesville and Judge C.N. Jenkins Jr. of Richmond. Baskin was represented by both Michael L. Rigsby of Richmond and Dickson J. Young of Fairfax. The bar was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Elizabeth K. Schoenfeld.