Court suspends attorney's license

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— A branch of the state Supreme Court has suspended a local attorney's Colorado law license after complaints by court officials that she had been "abandoning her clients."

14th Judicial District Admin--istrator Evan Herman said the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel alerted him Wednesday that Heather Joy Turner had been suspended from practicing law effective immediately.

Turner, 44, of Hayden, recently was charged with felony check fraud in Routt County in connection with a bad check passed at a clothing store in October.

Shortly after Turner's legal issues arose, judges in Routt and Moffat counties began complaining about what they called her noncompliance with court orders and negligence in communicating with her clients and court officials, including judges, according to court documents.

On Nov. 25, 14th Judicial District Judge Michael O'Hara ruled that Turner had "abandoned all of her clients." He cited an inability to follow court rules and procedures to withdraw from representing clients, as well as an inability to appear in court for scheduled dates.

The order also outlines the court's and her clients' frustration with being unable to contact Turner because she did not return calls and had not returned unused retainers.

Turner's clients have been left "scrambling to find alternate counsel, which causes havoc with the already crowded court calendar," O'Hara's order states.

O'Hara has ordered court clerks to send formal letters to Turner's clients informing them of her status and advising them to seek alternative counsel.

Herman said that to the best of his knowledge, nothing of this nature or severity has ever happened with an attorney in this district.

"Anytime something like this does happen, I think the principle problems are for the folks the attorney was representing," he said. "It causes delays in their cases, and it causes delays on the dockets. We process so many cases and we are so busy that any time an attorney doesn't show up to a hearing, it's a waste of everyone's time."

Regulation counsel John Glea--son said the Supreme Court filed one formal complaint accusing Turner of standing up a client on a trial date, not communicating with the court, ignoring court decisions and charging fees of which the client was unaware.

Gleason said he had been receiving daily calls from other clients with similar complaints.

In a letter dated Nov. 9, Turner said she planned to surrender her law license. She said the decision was "difficult" and made with a "heavy heart."

"I am no longer proud to be a part of a profession that I have been working toward for over 30 years," she wrote.

"I am intent on moving to 'greener pastures' which will allow me to have a stronger, more effective voice for those that continue to be abused by an oftentimes corrupt, confusing and oppressive legal system."

Turner listed the "actions or inactions of ... Chief Judge Michael O'Hara, the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the Craig Police Department, Bar President Sandra Gardner, the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, the Grand and Moffat County Departments of Human Services, Attorney Michelle DeSoer, the local press" and others as reasons for leaving the profession.

She did not elaborate but said the exact reasons soon would become public.

Gleason said Turner would not be allowed to voluntarily surrender her license, but investigations by the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel could lead to disbarment. Gleason said two investigators would look into the myriad allegations concerning Turner's conduct.

"We take it very seriously when people make any allegations against an attorney, especially when those allegations specify abandonment," he said. "Our mission is to help the public and, in this case, clients."

Gleason said Turner's clients would have to find alternative counsel and that a fund was available to reimburse them for retainers paid for services not rendered. For more information, call (877) 888-1370. Gleason encouraged Turner's clients to contact his office.

"We will try to help (her clients) in any way we can," he said.

Gleason said his office had tried to contact Turner several times about obtaining her court files but that the attempts had been unsuccessful.

Turner also did not return phone calls Thursday.

Gleason said Turner was listed as the attorney in as many as 140 Colorado cases, including 14 people she was representing in Routt County. Those clients included Jesus Alvarez-Frias, accused of selling cocaine from his home near Soda Creek Elementary School. She also was representing the Steamboat Springs man accused of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old boy.

Turner had been practicing law in Grand, Routt and Moffat counties since early 2005, O'Hara's order notes.

Turner worked for the Adams County District Attorney's Office from September 1987 to March 2002, according to sources there. She was a chief trial deputy for that office from May 1993 to March 2002, when she resigned. Officials with the Adams County District Attorney's Office said she left on good terms.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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