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CHRISTIAN T. GOELDNER v. MISSISSIPPI STATE BAR ASSOCIATION

MAY 11, 1988

CHRISTIAN T. GOELDNER
v.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BAR ASSOCIATION



EN BANC.

ZUCCARO, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

On April 10, 1986, The Mississippi State Bar Complaint Tribunal determined that the appellant attorney, Christian T. Goeldner, had willfully misrepresented the amount of fees due as well as the number of hours Goeldner spent working on a case for a client, Eugene F. Miller, in order to be paid at an hourly rate in excess of that allowed by the chancellor's order. The Tribunal determined that those acts constituted a deliberate fraud upon the Court and the client and ordered disbarment.

 The attorney was hired on January 16, 1984 by Eugene F. Miller (client) to recover assets belonging to his elderly aunt-in-law, Florence Lee Brantley Middleton. These assets were taken from Mrs. Middleton by a niece, Elizabeth Ann McInvale Baker. At the time Goeldner was hired he presented Miller with one employment contract providing for compensation at the rate of $100 per hour, which Miller signed. Goeldner filled out a form referred to by Goeldner's law office as a "New Matter Report" and opened a file which he labeled "Miller Re: Middleton - an estate matter." The number assigned to the account was 500-84001.

 Goeldner then filed a petition to set up a conservatorship for Mrs. Middleton, the elderly aunt, which was granted. Miller was appointed conservator. Goeldner then filed a motion to authorize legal action against the niece, Elizabeth Baker, on behalf of the conservatorship. This motion was granted on March 19, 1984 at which time Chancellor Dennis

 Baker stated that the court would allow Goeldner to charge only $60 per hour instead of the $100 per hour contemplated in the employment contract.

 On June 20, 1984 the suit to recover assets belonging to Mrs. Middleton was successful and an order was entered directing the niece, Elizabeth Baker, to return the property to Florence Middleton. On July 26, 1984 an Accounting and a Motion for Approval of Final Accounting seeking attorneys' fees and court costs was filed by Goeldner. With the petition Goeldner submitted a bill for the legal services rendered. The bill was entitled "Miller Re: Middleton," Goeldner's file number 500 84001 totaling $9,910.32 for work performed at $60 per hour. On September 11, 1984 the conservator questioned many of the charges and a hearing was held. The chancellor entered an order allowing fees and costs totaling $9,234.32. While the conservator was actually questioning the legitimacy of the bill, Goeldner never mentioned any other file kept by Goeldner concerning these same parties and issues.

 Subsequent to the hearing and approval of attorney's fees by the court, Miller (client) compared some of the bills previously received from Goeldner with the charges on the bill submitted with the accounting. The fees requested in the accounting were calculated based upon a rate of $60 per hour rather than the $100 per hour charged in the older bills.

 Miller discovered that even though the rate of pay was considerably lower ($60 vs. $100 per hour) the total of each of the two bills was nearly equal to each other. Miller then notified Chancellor Baker of the possible increase in the number of hours to adjust for the lower hourly rate. Both Miller and Chancellor Baker filed complaints with the Mississippi State Bar alleging that Goeldner had "padded" the time he spent on the Middleton matter to actually receive $100 per hour instead of $60 per hour allowed by the court.

 After Miller made a motion to set aside the order allowing payment of fees, Goeldner presented for the first time documents for an entirely different account labeled "Miller Re: Conservatorship," file number 900 84001.

 The Committee on Complaints directed its general counsel to conduct an investigation into the allegations of the complaints Mr. Miller and Chancellor Baker. At the conclusion of the general counsel's report, the Committee on Complaints directed general counsel to file a formal complaint against appellant. General Counsel filed the

 formal complaint on June 28, 1985. The Tribunal for the Central Supreme Court District of Mississippi, which consisted of Judge Alfred G. Nichols, John W. Prewitt, Jr., and Fred Ross, Jr., was appointed to hear the matter. The matter came to trial before the Tribunal on April 10, 1986, in Hernando, Mississippi. The Tribunal heard and viewed all testimony the Tribunal adjudicated that the State Bar had amply proven the allegations of the formal complaints.

 The Complaint Tribunal, sitting as the finder of fact, determined that Goeldner fabricated the second file and the billing hours in respect thereto. First of all the Bar found that account 500 84001 totaled $7,882.62 on July 2, 1984 whereas account 900 84001 totaled $7,256.80 as late as November 29, 1984.

 The Complaint Tribunal also found that the only monthly billing statements which were sent to Mr. Miller by Goeldner were for account 500 84001. Furthermore, account 500 84001 ...


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