On Thursday, March 7, 2024, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Pablo A. Zamora from practicing law for eight months for negligently misappropriating client funds.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Pablo A. Zamora,” with case no. 22-BG-0943.

The charges cited DC Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a) and 1.15(e), which states:

Misappropriation of client funds.

Failure to hold unearned advance fees in trust.

The case stems from Zamora’s representation of an undocumented immigrant named Jose Ascensio in removal proceedings and an application for a U-Visa in 2017. Zamora received flat fees from Ascensio’s wife Teka Stiles for both matters but did not hold the unearned portions of the fees in a separate client trust account as required. He later withdrew from representing Ascensio.

A hearing committee determined that Zamora violated rules regarding keeping unearned client funds separate and obtaining informed consent for alternative fee arrangements. The committee found his conduct to be negligent rather than reckless. It recommended an eight-month suspension along with additional months for other rule violations and mandatory legal education.

Upon review, the Board on Professional Responsibility agreed with most findings except it determined Zamora acted recklessly, not negligently, in misappropriating funds. It recommended disbarment, which is the standard sanction for reckless misappropriation. Zamora appealed, arguing his actions were merely negligent.

The Court of Appeals largely sided with the hearing committee. It held that while Zamora failed to properly obtain informed consent for his flat fee arrangement or explain material risks to the client, his misunderstanding of the rules was not objectively unreasonable. It found his conduct more akin to past cases of negligent noncompliance than to a previous case of blatant disregard for informed consent requirements.

In particular, the Court said Zamora made some required disclosures in his fee agreement regarding refunding unearned fees. It also noted he credibly testified he would have refunded any disputed fees, mitigating risks to clients. While ignorant of a precedent directly on point, his actions were not a “conscious indifference” to client security as required for a finding of recklessness.

Accordingly, the Court adopted the hearing committee’s recommended sanction of an eight-month suspension along with the additional requirements to pay $750 in restitution and attend legal education.

The Disposition states:

“Because we agree with the hearing committee’s careful analysis, we suspend Mr. Zamora for eight months for negligent misappropriation and order him to pay $750 plus interest in restitution and attend a continuing legal education program regarding flat-fee billing practices.”

According to avvo.com, Mr. Zamora is an immigration attorney in San Diego, California. He attended the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, graduating in 2009. He acquired his law license in the District of Columbia in 2011.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.