Bankruptcy lawyer urged clients to spread COVID-19, judge says

This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19. NIAID-RML/Handout via REUTERS.

(Reuters) - A Colorado bankruptcy judge has sanctioned an Edgewater, Colorado lawyer for "blatant misconduct," including advice he gave former clients to try to infect the trustee overseeing their case with COVID-19 or another illness.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas McNamara on Tuesday suspended attorney Devon Barclay from practicing in Colorado bankruptcy court for three years over his conduct while representing Matthew and Nicole Mennona, a Littleton, Colorado couple who sought Chapter 7 relief during the pandemic.

Barclay forged his clients' signatures on their Chapter 7 petition, tried to get the bankruptcy case dismissed multiple times under "false assertions of fact," and ignored a trustee's discovery efforts, leading to his clients getting hit with a $2,783.50 sanction, McNamara found.

McNamara also cited a Sept. 9, 2021, email from Barclay to his clients about a letter that was intended to be sent to another lawyer. "If either of you have COVID or some other highly infectious, nasty disease — or if you know someone who does — please make sure they lick the envelope and handle it as much as possible," Barclay said in the email.

It is unclear from the court record whether the comment was meant as a joke. Barclay did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McNamara issued the sanctions against Barclay in a lawsuit U.S. Trustee Patrick Layng filed against him last year over his conduct. The U.S. Trustee is a part of the U.S. Justice Department.

Barclay initially responded to Layng's lawsuit in May by invoking his 5th Amendment right to not incriminate himself while also making "qualified admissions." But he withdrew that response in October.

As a result of that withdrawal, McNamara held Barclay and his law firm, Devon Barclay PC, in default in the trustee's lawsuit. Barclay "ultimately chose not to oppose anything. So be it; but the defendants definitely had their day in court," McNamara said.

In addition to suspending Barclay for three years, McNamara also ordered Barclay to share his order with disciplinary authorities for the Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court of Colorado.

The Mennonas obtained new counsel in October 2021, six months after their Chapter 7 petition was filed. One month later, they sued Barclay for malpractice, and later settled for $150,000. Attorneys for the Mennonas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Layng v. Barclay, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado, No. 22-01139.

For Patrick Layng: Robert Samuel Boughner of the U.S. Justice Department

For Devon Barclay: Pro se

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.