On Thursday, January 26, 2023, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel for the State of Montana filed Disciplinary charges against Red Lodge attorney Deborah G. Panikoff before the Commission on Practice of the Supreme Court of the State of Montana.

The case is entitled “In the matter of  Deborah G. Panikoff,” with case no. 21-182.

The charges cited Montana Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15 and 1.18.

Allegedly, while the respondent is handling a client in a Partner Family Member Assault, one of the clients died around 2021. Although the respondent didn’t keep invoices that are itemized regarding her time or expenses, she refused to return any portion of the client’s retainer after the death. After a grievance was filed against her by the other client, the respondent refunded the unearned portion of the deceased’s retainer using his accounting to determine the amount. However, the respondent failed to deposit any of the advanced fees into her IOLTA account, instead, it was deposited into her business one.

The filing states:

“Though Respondent did not keep itemized invoices regarding her time or expenses, Respondent refused to return any portion of A.D.’s retainer; citing the retainer was a “flat fee” and non-refundable.”

The filing continues:

“The MRPC specifically outline not only must advanced fees and costs be deposited into 1OLTA/Trust Account, but rather, they may only be withdrawn as they are earned. Flat fee agreements are not prohibited by the Rules, but classifying them as “earned upon receipt”, or “non-refundable” as Respondent did here, is contrary to the MRPC.”

According to the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel, the failure of the respondent to deposit the deceased’s unearned fees into her IOLTA or Trust Account constitutes a violation of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. Thus, it prays that a citation is issued to the respondent, attached with the copy of the complaint, and requires the latter to file a response to the Complaint within 21 days after receipt. Furthermore, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel prays that a formal hearing be conducted before an Adjudicatory Panel of the Commission.

As of today, Ms. Pranikoff is listed as Attorney at Law at Deborah Pranikoff. Her info can be found on Linkedin. She practices in Red Lodge, Montana. She is licensed in Montana.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.