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State Bar suspends lawyer's license.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

The Oregon State Bar has suspended the law license of a longtime Eugene defense attorney whose high-profile cases date back to the 1984 murder trial of convicted child-killer Diane Downs.

A six-month suspension began Aug. 1 for James "Jim" Jagger, after a bar panel found that he had improper financial dealings with two former clients in 2006, then repeatedly missed deadlines for responding to Bar Disciplinary Counsel questions and document requests related to the cases. Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz also ordered Jagger to pay the bar $3,379 to cover its legal costs in prosecuting those cases.

Oregon lawyers found guilty of ethics violations face penalties ranging from a reprimand to a five-year license suspension, bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh said Thursday. "Any loss of a lawyer's license is a significant matter," she said.

The bar is currently investigating another client complaint regarding a case Jagger handled in March of this year, Walsh added.

In that case, Jagger is accused of arranging a phone conversation between his client, who faced three felony domestic violence charges, and the case's alleged victim, even though she had obtained a restraining order barring such contact. A complaint filed June 10 by the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center also accuses Jagger's office of contacting the woman and asking her to withdraw the restraining order. The new complaint also accuses Jagger of conflict of interest by continuing to represent the man on the domestic violence charges even after Jagger was subpoenaed as a witness in the restraining order violation case.

Walsh emphasized that the Bar Disciplinary Counsel's Office has not yet received Jagger's response to the new allegations and has only begun investigating the complaint.

"He will have an opportunity to provide us with some explanation and answers," she said. "If we feel there's evidence of an ethics violation, we take that to the State Professional Responsibility Board, which functions like a grand jury for us. They would have to authorize a formal prosecution."

According to a bar summary of the 2006 incidents that led to Jagger's suspension, he improperly deposited two clients' retainers into his general business account, "treating the funds as though they were his own," rather than keeping them in trust accounts. He also charged one of those clients a "clearly excessive" fee by failing to refund the balance of his $7,500 retainer after the client changed attorneys while his federal criminal case was still pending, the summary said. It said Jagger responded to that client's refund request by paying $100 to the client's account at a federal penitentiary.

The panel ordered Jagger to pay that client $6,000 in restitution - "the amount the client had to pay another attorney to complete the criminal matter."

Jagger also refused that client's request for an accounting of the funds, the panel said. Finally, it found that Jagger knowingly failed to respond in a reasonable and timely way to the bar's inquiries into the complaints.

Jagger told the bar panel that he thought he was justified in depositing the retainers into his business account because he believed he had nonrefundable, flat fee agreements with both clients. He said he learned during the probe that his fee agreements violated the bar's rules of professional conduct. The panel concluded, however, that Jagger knew or should have known he was dealing improperly with client property.

The panel also said Jagger's history of "similar violations" played a role in the panel's sanction. It cited a 1983 case in which the bar admonished Jagger for neglecting a probate proceeding and failing to respond to bar inquiries into the matter. It also cited a 1985 case in which he was reprimanded for destroying defense materials from a case rather than turning them over to his client; a 1995 case in which he was reprimanded for wrongful communication with another lawyer's client; and a 2002 a letter of admonishment for failing to properly deposit and maintain client funds in trust.

The Oregon State Bar is composed of about 14,000 active lawyers and prosecutes 60 to 70 discipline cases each year, Walsh said. She was unable Thursday to immediately provide statistics on types of sanctions imposed in recent years.

Jagger has been a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1970. He has handled hundreds of cases, many of them involving serious criminal charges. In his most recent such case, Jagger in March won acquittals for Brandon Lee Plunk. Plunk faced charges of attempted murder, robbery and burglary during the alleged armed robbery of a Eugene Dutch Bros. coffee stand last November. Plunk, 28, was arrested last month on methamphetamine and concealed weapon charges after someone called police to report two men who appeared to be "casing" a home near the University of Oregon campus.

Jagger is the former law partner and the husband of Lane County Circuit Judge Lauren Holland. She filed for divorce in May, citing irreconcilable differences. Holland has no history of discipline by the Oregon State Bar.
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Title Annotation:Courts; A high-profile defense attorney is censured for improper financial dealings
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 19, 2011
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