DARK SPELL raises significant questions about what Jason Baldwin’s attorney, Paul Ford, did—and did not do—at Jason’s trial. Why, for instance, did Ford fail to call ANY of Jason’s alibi witnesses? Yesterday I found this:
Last year, the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, issued Ford a caution, its mildest form of rebuke, for failing to investigate a client’s claim of medical malpractice. Because of Ford’s inaction, the statute of limitations on the client’s claim expired and she was left unable to pursue her intended lawsuit.
According to court records, Dorotha Finnie contacted Ford in January 2011, claiming that treatment for an earache by an emergency room doctor had left her deaf in one ear. Ford agreed to investigate and to take her case if he believed it was viable. If he chose not take her case, he was to notify her.
Finnie reportedly heard nothing more from Ford for the next two years. As the supreme court’s office noted: “After her initial consultation with Ford, Finnie called and visited his office numerous times but was told by a secretary that Ford was not available to speak with her. Ford also failed to return Finnie’s phone calls.”
Finnie filed a grievance with the court’s Office of Professional Conduct on Jan. 7, 2013. When that office contacted Ford, he responded that he had decided not to proceed with Finnie’s case. Ford responded in writing:
“It is my recollection that I discussed this decision with Ms. Finnie by phone. However, I cannot confirm this. It is my usual practice to discuss these matters with the client by phone, or in person, and then confirm the decision in writing. Sadly, there is no letter in my file to confirm the recollection of the phone call.”
Ford also acknowledged that, when he looked into the matter, he realized that the two-year statute of limitations had run on Finnie’s claim. He said that he had intended to inform her of this. “It was also my intention,” he wrote, “to advise her that I had malpractice coverage and that she should seek independent legal counsel on this matter.”
A supreme court committee found that, in his handling of Finnie’s case, Ford had violated three of the court’s Rules of Professional Conduct; failing to competently represent her, failing to act with reasonable diligence, and failing to inform her that he would not file suit on her behalf, with the result that, “the statute of limitations expired on Finnie’s potential claim.”
For this, on Sept. 25, 2013, the Committee on Professional Conduct ordered that Ford be “cautioned for his conduct in this matter and assessed $50 in costs.”
Reached by phone, Finnie, who is now 78, said she could not understand why Ford would never talk to her. She said that when she’d gone to his office, his staff told her “that everything looked good, everything was going fine.”
She said she’d filed her complaint with the supreme court because it was all she knew to do and that last year she received a phone call reporting the committee’s decision. “They said it had gone to the supreme court and it would cost him $50 and it was over.”
Asked how she felt about the fine, Finnie, a retired Walmart employee, laughed. “Isn’t that something?” she said. “I don’t feel like he even missed that $50.”