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On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility

Argued January 9, 2002

As of January 2000, Rule 1.15 (d) of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct provides that “[a]dvances of unearned fees and unincurred costs shall be treated as property of the client . . . until earned or incurred unless the client consents to a different arrangement.” The present disciplinary matter, however, arose in the context of the predecessor Rule 1.15 (d), which specified that “[a]dvances of legal fees and costs become the property of the lawyer upon receipt.” *fn1 Respondent (Arneja) received certain Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance payments while representing two clients and an estate in connection with a personal injury suit he was engaged to file. Although he used a portion of these receipts to pay personal expenses (leaving his trust account at various times below the amount of the received payments), the Board on Professional Responsibility rejected Bar Counsel’s charge of misappropriation because it found that the clients had consented to Arneja’s use of the PIP funds to pay expected litigation expenses, thereby making them his property under former Rule 1.15 (d). At the same time, the Board found that Arneja had violated Rule 1.15 (a) (commingling), Rule 1.15 (b) (failure to notify and promptly deliver funds to clients and/or third parties), Rule 1.16 (a) (failure to withdraw from representation after notification of discharge), Rules 1.8 (i) and 1.16 (d) (failure to surrender files on termination of representation), and Rule 8.4 (c) (conduct amounting to dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and/or misrepresentation). The Board recommends that Arneja be suspended from the practice of law for one year.

 
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