Lawyer's disappearance disrupts court docket

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A local attorney's decision to surrender her law license is putting more pressure on an already congested court system and is disrupting cases and schedules, court officials said.

Heather Turner surprised her clients, judges and other attorneys Nov. 9, when she sent them a letter informing them she was giving up her license to practice law.

In the letter, Turner said she submitted a list of alternate attorneys for the cases in which she was involved. But she made no official move to remove herself as the attorney of record.

Turner did not return phone calls Wednesday.

John Gleason, Supreme Court regulation counsel, said Turner has not surrendered her license.

On Nov. 25, 14th Judicial Court Chief Judge Michael O'Hara ruled that Turner had "abandoned all her clients." O'Hara asked court clerks to notify Turner's clients they were without an attorney.

The clerks sent letters to Turner's clients, former clients and opposing counsel notifying them of Turner's status.

Clerks have identified 74 cases in the three-county district in which Turner is listed as the attorney.

O'Hara, in an order, said Turner has repeatedly failed to appear in court, did not return phone calls from clients or court officials and that her action "causes havoc with the already crowded court calendar."

"It's caused problems and delayed actions in a lot of cases," court clerk Diana Meyer said. "There was no direction on where to send people."

Court officials are directing Turner's clients to the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, which has access to a fund where clients can apply to be reimbursed for any retainers they paid Turner for services not rendered. The number is 1-877-888-1370.

"Our only function is to address any complaint an individual may have with a lawyer," Gleason said.

Several cases have been delayed because of Turner's resignation as clients scramble to find new representation and get them up to speed.

"This particular situation is very unusual," Craig attorney Patrick Owen said. "I don't recall something like this happening in my 30 years as an attorney."

There have been cases in which the death or disability of a lawyer produced a similar problem, Owen said.

But in many cases, the new attorney has to start over, Owen said.

"Most lawyers will work with clients to help ease the financial burden so they don't have to pay for things twice, or too many things twice," he said.

No matter the circumstances, the situation causes a disruption in the flow of cases, Owen said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or be e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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