In light of the city’s filing of a lawsuit against S&S Shortline Leasing in 2015, a decision that now has them scrambling to find a way to annex into the city a strip of land a few feet wide and approximately 150 miles long in order to avoid losing the suit and possibly, the local railroad, the shortcomings of city attorney Charles “Chuck” Odgers are now under a microscope and his background is under intense scrutiny.
The plan to annex the property as a legal strategy is wrought with problems, foremost being the formidable costs to the city to contract for police, fire and emergency medical services in Elko County, which would be a requirement if Elko County was to approve the dubious arrangement.
Odgers, who came to the city after numerous scandals in Las Vegas forced him out of that town and into Ely as a public defender, has been city attorney for less than two years now and is a Svengali-like consigliere to the Bruce Setterstrom controlled Ely City Council, with only Councilmember Pat Robison dissenting from the other four on a regular basis, including the imprudent annexation proposal.
In June 2014, Odgers pleaded guilty in Nevada Supreme Court to 10 charges that included diligence, communication, expediting litigation, professional independence of a lawyer, unauthorized practice of law, communication concerning a lawyer’s service, advertising, advertising filing requirements, bar admission and disciplinary matters, and misconduct.
Odgers was publicly reprimanded and his law license was suspended for two years but the suspension was stayed pending Odgers’ compliance with the conditions that he not engage in private practice for two years, that he obtain a mentor approved by the state bar, that he promptly respond to all information requests from the state bar, that he refrain from engaging in any activities that result in discipline during the two-year probation term, that he pay restitution to three former clients in the amount of $3,900, and that he pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
The court’s J. Saitta dissented in the stay of his law license suspension, noting that his stayed suspension “does not sufficiently protect the public and the integrity of the bar”
“The record demonstrates that Odgers inadequately represented numerous clients: he failed to ever even meet with some of the clients who engaged his services, became unresponsive in the midst of representing others, and failed to prepare and file necessary documents,” Saitta wrote in his dissent.
He said that the prohibition on Odgers engaging in the private practice of law was designed to allow him to act as a deputy public defender in a rural part of the state.
“As noted by bar counsel in explaining this condition to the panel, there is a sincere need in the rural areas of this state for lawyers who will represent indigent persons in criminal matters,” Saitta wrote. “However, such persons need and deserve adequate, focused representation as much as any clients. I recognize that Odgers’s stayed suspension is designed to work as an incentive for him to provide zealous representation for the clients he represents through the public defender’s office, but it is incongruent to prevent him from engaging in the private practice of law, presumably to protect potential clients who have the ability to choose and the means to pay for an attorney, while allowing him to represent a vulnerable population with the most serious interests at stake.”
Odgers travails began when he was the attorney on record at a Las Vegas office, “702-Traffic”, owned and operated by a non-lawyer, Kirk Helmick, which alleged to provide representation to clients charged with traffic infractions and DUIs.
According to the disciplinary board, Odgers never maintained an office at the 702-Traffic business address and yet 702-Traffic provided advertising with respect to legal matters concerning traffic citations, DUIs and related matters.
“702-Traffic utilized your name and your law firm in these advertisements,” the discipline board argued. “All potential clients would be met at the 702-Traffic office by administrative, non-lawyer staff employed by 702-Traffic. Each potential client would be presented with an intake agreement and fee agreement by a non-lawyer.”
The discipline board stated that the non-lawyer staff from 702-Traffic would also collect a retainer fee from each client who signed a fee agreement.
“You were supposed to act as legal counsel for all clients obtained by 702-Traffic, pertaining to traffic tickets and DUI cases,” the discipline board stated. “702-Traffic deposited the funds, paid by the clients signed up by its non-lawyer staff, into a business account for 702-Traffic, LLC, and issued periodic checks to you from this account.”
The checks paid to Odgers were only a portion of the monies paid to 702- Traffic for legal fees and Odgers was not a signatory to the account, but print and TV advertisements included the names of 702-Traffic and Odgers & Associates, leading clients to believe 702-Traffic was affiliated with, or part of, a law firm.
“You filed advertisements with the state bar, pursuant to RPC 7.2A, which you represented to be on behalf of Odgers & Associates when, in reality, they were actually advertising the services of 702-Traffic,” the discipline board stated.
The complaint states a number of grievances beginning in the spring of 2009, in response to an advertisement, a potential client visited the premises of 702-Traffic to retain an attorney to assist him in defending a DUI citation he received earlier that month. He was initially met by a non-lawyer employee of 702-Traffic, advised to fill out several forms, signed a retainer agreement with 702-Traffic and paid the retainer fee.
“You did not adequately communicate with [the client] regarding his case and, as a result, [the client] chose to retain the services of another attorney,” the discipline board stated.
In May of 2010, another client checked into 702-Traffic in response to an advertisement, to retain an attorney to handle a moving violation received by his minor daughter. The client was met by a non-lawyer employee of 702-Traffic, who explained the legal procedures to him, advised him to fill out several forms, and sign a retainer agreement with 702-Traffic, writing them a check as well. On June 24, 2010, the client received a letter from Odgers stating that he would be representing the client’s daughter as to her violation and that he would be in touch. On Aug.13, 2010, the client received a notice to his daughter from Las Vegas Municipal Court regarding a bench warrant for failing to appear in court to answer her citation.
“[The client] paid the citation immediately to dismiss the warrant,” the discipline board stated. “[The client] made several attempts to determine what had happened, but was only able to speak with clerical staff at 702- Traffic. At no time did you ever meet with, or speak to [The client] regarding the case. The state bar sent you several letters via certified mail, forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised by [the client]. You failed to respond to these letters.”
In a third grievance, this one in April of 2010, a client went to 702-Traffic for the purpose of retaining Odger’s services to handle a traffic ticket. She was told by the non-lawyer staff that the fee for handling her case would be $375, a fee she paid directly to 702-Traffic, signing the forms that were provided to her. She then received a letter from Odgers stating that he would be representing her.
“On June 28, 2010, [the client] received a notice from the city of Las Vegas regarding a bench warrant for failing to appear in court to answer her citation,” the discipline board stated. “[The client] contacted 702-Traffic, which she understood to be your law office, and was told by an assistant not to worry and that everything would be handled. On Sept. 30, 2010, [the client] received another notice from the city of Las Vegas stating that her ticket had not been paid. She contacted 702-Traffic and was told by an assistant that the office had sent her a letter saying that she had to pay the ticket separately. [The client] believed the $375 charge had included payment of the fine as well as attorney fees. At no point during her representation, did [the client] ever speak to you, or any other attorney employed by you, regarding her case.”
The state bar sent Odgers several letters via certified mail, forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised by the woman, but Odgers never responded to any of those letters.
In a fourth grievance filed in December 2009, a client went to 702- Traffic to consult an attorney about a moving violation that she had received. Again, the client met with a non-lawyer who explained the legal procedures regarding the ticket process to her and based on his representations, the client paid a fee of $350 to 702-Traffic. She was advised that Odgers would represent her and that she would be hearing from a representative of 702-Traffic regarding the disposition of the citation and the fine involved. After the initial consultation, the client received no response regarding the status of her ticket. At no time did Odgers ever meet with, or speak to her regarding her case.
“[The client] was subsequently pulled over for a broken tail light,” the discipline board stated. “When the officer pulled her record, he found a bench warrant for her arrest arising out of the moving violation you were supposed to be handling on her behalf.”
Again, the state bar sent Odgers several letters via certified mail, forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised by the client.
“You failed to respond to these letters,” the discipline board stated.
A fifth grievance states that a client retained Odgers’ services directly, instead of through 702-Traffic, to seal her record on March 16, 2010. Odgers received a retainer of $400 from the woman, who later contacted his office in August 2010, to check on the status of her case. She was told by Odgers that everything was fine but later she determined, in November 2010, through her own independent investigation, that no paperwork had been filed to begin the process of sealing her record. Her calls to Odgers went unreturned and again, the state bar sent Odgers several letters via certified mail, forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised.
“You failed to respond to these letters,” the discipline board stated.
In a sixth grievance, a client retained Odgers’ services to represent her in a divorce matter. He filed a Complaint for Divorce on behalf of the woman on Oct. 17, 2008. The woman was awarded half of the property but minimal child support payments, seeing as her husband was out of work. After the trial, Odgers was charged with filing a divorce decree and when the husband later found work, she attempted to contact Odgers to discuss how to proceed. At this point, a final divorce decree had not been filed and after several attempts to contact Odgers, the client was finally able to meet with him in February of 2011 and was advised that she would need to go back to court to request a revision to the terms of custody and child support and to alert the court regarding the nonpayment by the ex-husband of the ordered joint assets. The client heard nothing from Odgers after that meeting.
“She attempted to reach you via phone and e-mail with no success,” the discipline board stated. “After being unable to reach you regarding the status of her case, she went to the courthouse to obtain a copy of her divorce paperwork. [The client] was advised by court personnel that a divorce decree had never been entered by the court and that her case was still pending. After being advised by court personnel that her case was still unresolved, [the client] went to your office and found your office space vacant.”
The client was later able to locate and contact Odgers through another attorney, and Odgers advised that he would be returning to Las Vegas in September of 2011, to file the client’s divorce papers. On Nov. 8, 2011, the court prepared and filed a Decree of Divorce due to the failure of the parties to submit one as directed. The state bar sent Odgers several letters via certified mail forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised by the client, but Odgers failed to respond to any of the letters.
The discipline board stated that on April 10, 2012, Odgers spoke with assistant bar counsel regarding the matter, and acknowledged receipt of the letters. He stated that he had been experiencing economic and personal problems and in a subsequent letter, stated that the letters from the bar only contributed to the pressure he felt he was under.
“Logically my lack of response did nothing to help the situation, but I could not bring myself to address these issues…” Odgers wrote.
A seventh grievance states that on or about January of 2008, a client retained Odgers to represent her in a divorce action filed by her husband,. A trial took place on May 22, 2009 and for the next year, the client attempted to contact Odgers on numerous occasions, with no success, regarding the divorce decree, which she was informed Odgers was to prepare. The court docket did not reflect that a divorce decree was ever filed with the court and the state bar sent Odgers several letters via certified mail, forwarding a copy of the grievance and demanding a written response to the specific issues raised by the client.
“You failed to respond to these letters,” the discipline board stated.
On April 10, 2012, assistant bar counsel spoke with Odgers regarding this matter and he acknowledged receipt of the letters from the state bar and his failure to respond. On May 3, 2012, he finally provided a response to the state bar stating that he had been experiencing economic and personal problems, however, he maintained that he submitted no less than two separate decrees to the court following the May 22, 2009, bench trial.
“You acknowledged that the court docket does not reflect these submittals,” the discipline board stated. “As to your failure to respond to the state bar, you again stated ‘The letters from the bar only contributed to the pressure I felt I was under. Logically my lack of response did nothing to help the situation, but I could not bring myself to address these issues…’”
In the Northern Nevada Disciplinary Board’s Letter of Reprimand, Odgers was charged with failing to comply with advertising requirements in that he specifically promoted that his firm had collected more than $100,000,000, presumably for its clients, as the result of accidents.
“Please address and answer the following with regard to this statement,” the disciplinary board asked. “Is the claim accurate? Is the $100,000,000 a combined monetary figure collected from various cases handled by Law Firm? What time frame does this claim cover? Were these amounts actually received? Was this award, or the accumulation thereof, obtained by Nevada lawyers, practicing in Nevada? Were you affiliated with Law Firm when all the stated recoveries occurred? Please provide the state bar with the actual case captions and include as much detail as possible with regard to their outcomes.”
The disciplinary board also questioned excerpts in Odgers’s advertising from what it said “looked like newspaper headlines, that announce awards received from clients of law firm.
“Kindly provide the state bar with case numbers and remit documentation that supports these figures,” the disciplinary board asked. “Attorney’s response to the state bar did not substantiate the claims or respond to the substance of the state bar’s letter. Instead, Attorney provided the state bar with a revised version of the advertisement, which deleted the reference to the more than $100,000,000 collected, along with the purported newspaper clippings.”
The board noted that a “lawyer may make statements describing or characterizing the quality of the lawyer’s services in advertisements and written communications, however, such statements are subject to proof of verification, to be provided at the request of the state bar or a client or prospective client.”
Odgers’ failure to substantiate the claims led to a screening panel of the disciplinary board determining that a Stayed Letter of Reprimand for violations was appropriate and Odgers was notified of the disciplinary board’s direction to remove the ads in June 2010.
As Ely’s city attorney, Odgers is also responsible for prosecuting infractions in the city’s municipal court. On July 14, 2015, after missing numerous court appearances on behalf of the city, the local judge issued a bench warrant for Odgers and he was arrested by White Pine County sheriff deputies and he was brought to court.
The case was later dropped and Odgers eventually had the case sealed.
Odgers, who earns nearly $130,000 a year in salary and benefits from the city, also gets paid as a substitute prosecutor in the White Pine County DA’s office, handling occasional overflow cases.