In re Kara Jane Jensen Zitnick, Proc. No. D2016-24 (USPTO Dir. Dec. 7, 2016)

Michael E. McCabe, Jr.Recordkeeping, USPTO

Disposition: Reciprocal sixty (60)-day suspension and two (2)-year period of probation after reinstatement, which was unopposed by practitioner and which was predicated upon identical discipline imposed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota.  Final decision here.

Procedure: Reciprocal discipline pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 11.24.

Related Case: In re Kara Jensen Zitnick, Case No. A15-0743 (Minn. Dec. 16, 2015)

Related to USPTO Practice? Yes

Misconduct: Unintentional financial misconduct.

Summary: A trademark practitioner who failed to communicate with a client in a trademark matter, failed to hold unearned client funds in trust, failed to timely return client funds, failed to maintain required trust account books and records, created shortages in her trust account, and failed to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation, was suspended by the USPTO for sixty (60) days and received a two (2)-year probationary term as identical reciprocal discipline under 37 C.F.R. § 11.24 for violating 37 C.F.R. § 11.804(h) predicated upon her being publicly disciplined by the Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Facts: This reciprocal disciplinary matter arose from a Minnesota-based trademark attorney’s mismanagement of her client trust account, failure to maintain adequate financial records, failure to communicate with a trademark client, and failure to cooperate with a disciplinary investigation.
On August 6, 2012, Emily Coleman retained Ms. Zitnick to represent her in the submission of a trademark application to the USPTO. The client made an advanced payment for fees and expenses. Ms. Zitnick did not deposit any portion of Ms. Coleman’s fee or cost advance into her trust account despite not having provided any legal services at the time.

On January 22, 2013, the USPTO issued an Office Action regarding Ms. Coleman’s trademark application. Ms. Zitnick failed to notify Ms. Coleman of the Office Action and failed to return her client’s emails or voice mails regarding the status of her trademark application.

During the course of the Director’s investigation of the Coleman matter, the Director requested and Ms. Zitnick provided trust account books and records for the period January 2013 through July 2014. All the client subsidiary ledgers, trial balance reports and reconciliation reports provided by Ms. Zitnick for this period had been reconstructed by Ms. Zitnick’s counsel. During the period from at least January 2013 to at least November 2014, Ms. Zitnick failed to contemporaneously maintain the trust account books required by Minnesota Rule of Prof. Conduct Rule 1.15 by failing to contemporaneous client subsidiary ledgers, monthly trial balance reports and monthly reconciliation reports. In addition, during the period July 2013 to November 2014, the balance in Ms. Zitnick’s trust account was continuously short of that necessary to cover aggregate client balances and failed to timely return client funds.

Finally, Ms. Zitnick failed to cooperate with the Minnesota ethics committee’s disciplinary investigation.

On April 15, 2015, Ms. Zitnick was charged by the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Conduct with three counts arising from her misconduct for failure to communicate, trust account violations, and failure to cooperate. Ms. Zitnick unconditionally admitted to the allegations in the disciplinary complaint. She received a sixty (60) day suspension, with conditions, plus two (2) years of probation, from the Supreme Court of Minnesota.

On October 11, 2016, the USPTO Director issued a Notice and Order Pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 11.24 notifying Ms. Zitnick that the OED Director had filed a Complaint for Reciprocal Discipline Pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 11.24 requesting imposition of reciprocal discipline identical to the discipline imposed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. Ms. Zitnick failed to respond. The USPTO Director, therefore, entered an order suspending Ms. Zitnick for sixty (60) days from practice before the Office and further ordered that she serve a two (2)-year period of probation upon reinstatement to practice before the Office.

USPTO Ethics Rules: 37 C.F.R. § 11.804(h).