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Bar revokes lawyer for lack of a moral compass'.

Byline: Peter Vieth

A lawyer accused of failing to help his clients, lying about a suspicious car crash and making false statements to his client and to a Virginia State Bar investigator has been disbarred.

Despite only three complaints of poor legal work, the VSB Disciplinary Board used strong language in a March 22 order revoking the license of Sammy E. Ayer of Yorktown, declaring him "completely lacking in credibility."

Ayer allegedly left three clients without any legal help and failed to explain why he repeatedly dropped the ball. Compounding his troubles were reports of false statements to the clients, to a bar investigator and to the board that heard his discipline case.

In particular, board members expressed disbelief about Ayer's explanations of a 2017 single-car accident that left him injured. Police reportedly seized $1,040 in cash and an Uzi machine gun from the wrecked car.

Two divorce cases

Ayers, first licensed in 2013 and practicing on the Peninsula, was hired by two clients to handle uncontested divorce cases in early 2015. He filed pleadings in one case just three months after the couple separated. Virginia law requires six months of separation for an uncontested divorce.

The board said it was clear Ayer did not understand the court lacked jurisdiction, a problem that could not be fixed retroactively. The board was unimpressed with Ayer's explanations for his lapses as the divorce action proceeded.

In the other divorce case, the client allegedly resorted to leaving notes on Ayer's windshield because she could not get through to him by phone or email. Ayer overlooked the client's potential claim for a portion of her husband's military retirement benefits, the board said.

At the time of the bar hearing, four years after the two divorce clients came to Ayer, they were still not divorced, the board said.

License restoration

Another client hired Ayer in 2017 to help her regain driving privileges. He charged her $500, saying $350 of that was for a filing fee, she told the bar. In fact, no filing fee was required. In a series of text messages, Ayer told the client he had filed a petition and that a court date was pending.

"When Respondent sent those texts, he was lying. There was no court date, there was never a court date, and he didn't file anything. In fact, [the client] had to get her license back herself," the board wrote.

The board concluded Ayer had violated the VSB Rules of Professional Conduct involving the attorney-client relationship and, in the case of the license restoration, had made false statements to the bar investigator and engaged in conduct involving "dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation."

Although not mentioned in VSB documents, court records show Ayer has been convicted of criminal contempt on three occasions for missing court dates in Newport News, York County and Hampton.

Car wreck

Ayer also had trouble explaining details of his Oct. 18, 2017, car wreck and possession of a machine gun.

A legal dispute arose over items left in Ayer's car after he crashed into a tree in York County. The car was totaled and Ayer said he was bleeding, according to the board's summary of the evidence. He walked home, he told the board.

"He was never able to articulate why he did not use his cellphone to call the police," the board said.

The York County commonwealth's attorney filed a civil action for forfeiture of the auto's contents. On Dec. 5, 2017, Ayer consented to forfeiture of the $1,040 cash and agreed to a fine for missing an earlier court date, but there was the matter of the machine gun.

Ayer reportedly testified at the bar hearing that the Uzi found in his car was given to him by his father. A police sergeant testified he was able to determine the machine gun was reported taken from a law firm where Ayer used to work, the board said.

The board concluded Ayer "is completely lacking in credibility in his filings with the court, his interaction with his clients, and his testimony to the Board."

Ayer represented himself in the VSB discipline matter, but he was represented in the York County incident by Mario J. Stellute of Hampton.

"At this time, it would be improper for me to comment on anything relating to Mr. Ayer's matters," Stellute said April 9.

"There are no criminal charges pending against Mr. Ayer," said Commonwealth's Attorney Benjamin M. Hahn.

The VSB was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Christine M. Corey.

Revocation ordered

Hoping to avoid suspension or revocation, Ayer urged the board to allow him to finish his work for the clients. Ayer had no prior disciplinary record and had been practicing for about five years, the board said.

The board was unmoved.

"It is clear from Respondent's testimony that he lacks all understanding with regard to the harm he has caused," the board said.

"Respondent's actions and blatant lies to his clients and the Board demonstrate his lack of a moral compass. Accordingly, any sanction other than revocation would be a disservice to the Virginia legal community and the public at large," the board wrote.

The order revoking Ayer's license as of Feb. 15 was signed by Disciplinary Board 1st Vice Chair Sandra L. Havrilak. Ayer promptly filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia, according to the VSB.

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Title Annotation:Virginia State Bar on Sammy E. Ayer
Author:Vieth, Peter
Publication:Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Date:Apr 17, 2019
Words:900
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