“More Bad Judgement Calls by NLV’s Sandra Morgan – Deputy City Attorney Now Suspended From Practicing Law”
North Las Vegas, Nevada
November 5, 2015
Would you hire a Deputy City Attorney to represent the City of North Las Vegas in criminal court if he had eight (out of ultimately 13) State Bar ethics cases pending against him? North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Morgan did.
In 2013, City Attorney Sandra Morgan hired Thomas Fronczek, a 2009 graduate of her alma mater the William S. Boyd School of Law, to replace then-Deputy City Attorney, Stephen Webster. She hired Fronczek notwithstanding the fact that at that time he had eight State Bar cases pending against him for ethics violations.
While Fronczek had not yet been found guilty of any offense and had the right to be presumed innocent, Morgan as the City Attorney had an equal obligation as North Las Vegas’s top law manager, to hire a criminal prosecutor with the highest level of ethical standards and competence. In explaining the critical role that prosecutors hold in our society, H. Richard Uviller, a former prosecutor and Professor of Law at Columbia University, wrote:
“…the public prosecutor strives to maintain an upright stance in the stained halls of criminal justice . . . Virtue is the cherished ingredient in his role: the honorable exercise of the considerable discretionary power with which our legal system has endowed his office. Daily, the ethical fibre of the prosecutor is tested – and through him, in large measure, the rectitude of the system of justice.”
Moreover, there is often stiff competition for these coveted prosecutorial positions, allowing the City Attorney to hire the best and the brightest of the candidates. Having eight pending State Bar cases should have at a minimum raised a red flag for Morgan during the hiring process, if not sounded an entire orchestra of alarms!
On September 18, 2015, the Nevada Supreme Court in a unanimous decision that resolved all 13 bar cases against Fronczek, imposed “a two-year-and-six-month suspension, with two years stayed and six months actual suspension, commencing on the date this order is filed.” Fronczek is unable to practice law until at least March 2016.
In the negotiated plea bargain, in which Fronczek was represented by top criminal defense attorney, William B. Terry, Fronczek pled guilty to the following ethical violations:
Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.3 — Failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client;
RPC 1.4 — Failing to adequately communicate with a client;
RPC 1.15 — Failing to safe keep or return a client’s property (retainer funds);
RPC 5.3 — Failing to adequately supervise non-lawyer assistants;
RPC 5.5 – Assisting another person in the unauthorized practice of law; and
RPC 8.1(b) — Knowingly failing to respond to a demand for information from an admissions or disciplinary authority.
The cases reportedly arose from a period in which Fronczek hired an office manager named Jesse Cisneros to manage his office including his client trust account. During this period, Fronczek wholly failed to supervise or impose checks and balances on Cisneros, enabling Cisneros to embezzle $113,980 of Fronczek’s clients’ money. It is basic ethics that every attorney has a fiduciary obligation to safeguard his client’s money and that means closely monitoring and supervising client trust accounts. In all, 13 clients lost their money.
The Supreme Court ordered Fronczek to repay all of these clients for the full amount that he failed to safeguard. Fronczek was also ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary actions and investigations. In addition, if Fronczek is found to violate the same rules of ethics again, the State Bar will recommend that the Supreme Court reinstate the two year stayed portion of the suspension “in addition to any sanction that may be warranted in the new matter(s).”
Fronczek was also ordered to notify the State Bar if he ever goes into private practice again, in which case he would have to obtain a mentor, approved by the State Bar, for a period of one year. One can only assume that the Bar did not require Fronczek to obtain a mentor if he stayed in government office, either because he would theoretically be supervised by superiors in the government, and/or he would not have access to client funds.
Either way, however, it is quite ironic that Morgan, who initiated a recall petition against Judge Ramsey in part because the judge was being a stickler on certain rules, seems to have had no problem hiring a prosecutor with multiple ethics cases against him.
But here’s the ultimate punchline: Now that Fronczek is suspended from practicing law for six months, who did Morgan get to replace him? Stephen Webster, the very prosecutor she initially saw fit to replace!
Putting it generously, the leadership of North Las Vegas continues to shine in mismanagement skills and bad judgement calls ….