The Wyoming Supreme Court announced Don Shreve Jr.’s suspension in a Wednesday order; it follows a similar order the Nevada Supreme Court issued in July.
Shreve already has served more than half of the five-year suspension. That’s because his law license had been temporarily suspended in Wyoming since February 2012 after he repeatedly failed to respond to the complaints against him in Nevada. The Nevada bar spent more than a year and a half trying to reach him.
In a Wednesday interview, Shreve said he was going through some emotional personal issues with friends and family at the time of the bar’s investigation and “I just didn’t get it done.”
“Because I’m not practicing down there any longer (in Nevada), then it’s easy for them to beat me around the head and shoulders when I’m not there — because they don’t have to face me in court anymore,” added Shreve, who moved to Cody around 2007 but kept an office in Las Vegas.
He described the issues that led to his suspension as “really a problem with getting documents filed, because I had a remote office with secretarial staff that just wasn’t up to the task.”
The Nevada Supreme Court wrote in its July order that Shreve “failed to remit client funds, commingled client funds with non-client funds, failed to represent his clients diligently, and failed to communicate with his clients or to respond to the state bar.”
The Nevada bar found Shreve had committed 44 violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
In what was perhaps the most egregious misconduct, court records say Shreve failed to turn over more than $46,000 of settlements he obtained on behalf of two insurers.
The Nevada state bar at one point publicly suggested Shreve might have stolen a $25,000 settlement; Shreve said the money was actually in a different bank account and called it a “record-keeping issue.”
The State Bar of Nevada initially recommended Shreve be disbarred, but changed its mind after he began participating in the proceedings. The Nevada bar took into account Shreve’s remorse, good reputation and record prior to the complaints and that he’d “suffered emotional problems during the time frame at issue due to significant life events.”
Shreve indicated a close friend and a family member were battling cancer.
“It is a great understatement to say that Mr. Shreve is embarrassed, humbled and ashamed not only because the money (the $25,000) was not timely returned, but also by the fact that he allowed his depressive emotion and sense of being overwhelmed (to) cause him to (not) properly and timely participate in the State Bar proceedings,” his Nevada attorney, Michael Warhola, wrote in June 2012. “He blames absolutely no one but himself.”
The proceedings focused on Shreve’s dealings with two insurance companies he represented while working in Vegas: Century-National Insurance Company and Farmers Insurance Exchange.
Shreve had obtained a $35,000 settlement for Century-National in March 2009. He paid out $10,000 to the insurance company’s customer as expected, but instead of sending the remaining $25,000 to Century-National like he was supposed to, Shreve put the money in his trust account and then moved it elsewhere; bank records obtained by the State Bar of Nevada showed that by the end of August 2009, only about $4,000 remained in the account.
“The problem was, I had three different bank accounts and so the one they subpoenaed didn’t have it in there,” Shreve told the Tribune. “And full restitution has been made to these folks, so it’s really not an issue.”
Records show Shreve paid Century-National the $25,000 in February 2012. That was three years after he’d obtained it, four months after he’d been recommended for disbarment in Nevada and four days after his law license was suspended in Wyoming.
Shreve’s explanation to the Nevada bar was that the insurance company had never asked him for the money.
“All that was necessary was for them to get a hold of me and this matter would have been resolved,” Shreve said in a September 2011 letter, saying he’d kept updated contact information with the Nevada bar.
However, Century-National officials said that actually, they’d tried numerous times to reach Shreve. Further, the disciplinary records say Shreve also spent more than a year and a half ignoring repeated letters, emails and phone calls from representatives of the Nevada bar who were investigating Century-National’s complaint.
Shreve said he “didn’t respond as timely as they (bar counsel) would like me to have” and “if you don’t respond as rapidly as they desire you to respond, then you’re a bad person.”
Meanwhile, Shreve also failed to respond to a lawsuit brought by Farmers Insurance in Clark County, Nev., District Court. Shreve had represented the company in numerous cases between 2005 and 2009. The suit alleged that in 10 cases, he committed legal malpractice.
Court documents say Shreve failed to turn over settlements he obtained for Farmers Insurance in three separate cases around the year 2008. The settlements totaled more than $21,000. He also missed deadlines or failed to file required documents in the other seven cases that led the insurance company missing out on money it believed it was owed.
A Clark County judge ultimately awarded Farmers Insurance damages of $67,718.26 plus attorneys fees, costs and interest that brought the total default judgment to $91,052.49.
After finishing the five-year suspension, Shreve will have to prove he’s paid back what he owes to Farmers Insurance before being allowed to again practice law.
“Everything has been taken care of, so it’s kind of just waiting until the suspension period’s up,” Shreve told the Tribune.
Shreve had been licensed in Nevada beginning in 1991 and in Wyoming since 2008.
In one of his responses to the Nevada State Bar, Shreve said he had “worked my entire life as a servant to the public.” He pointed to free and deeply discounted legal representation he provided to defendants in municipal court, parents involved in child neglect cases and others through his Cody office.
“The local legal community is completely devoid of any attorney willing to lend such assistance, at a reasonable hourly rate, or most importantly, at all,” Shreve wrote in 2012, saying many in the area would go unrepresented without him.
He’s currently working as a regional recruiter for the Wyoming Cowboy Challenge Academy, a Wyoming National Guard program aimed at transforming at-risk teens.