The State Bar of Arizona has found probable cause that attorney Mark Briggs -- formerly a partner with Quarles & Briggs -- violated a host of ethical rules in his dealings with a local novelist and her aborted film production.
Mystery writer Sylvia Nobel had filed a complaint against Briggs almost two years ago, alleging that he helped himself to $810,000 that an elderly fan had donated to finance the film adaptation of her novel Deadly Sanctuary. Briggs used the money to purchase Sugar Daddy's nightclub in South Scottsdale. New Times reported on the matter in this 2008 cover story.
In a brief order issued in February, and obtained by New Times through a records request, the Bar's probable-cause panelist found reason to issue a complaint against Briggs.
Briggs had long insisted that he had no attorney/client relationship with Nobel, so her complaint had no merit. And he's argued that he can't be disciplined for taking the money when he ultimately returned it to the investor -- even though it was only after Nobel caught him.
But the probable-cause findings suggest that, even if it's impossible to say flat-out that he "took" his client's money, there are plenty of ethical rules Briggs failed to follow.
While the Bar's order doesn't provide detail, by the rules that it cites, it echoes allegations made by Nobel's attorneys. They argued that Briggs violated ethical rules by the following actions:
* He failed to provide written fee agreements to Nobel or the production company.
* He failed to clarify that he believed he was not acting as her attorney when he did legal work for the film project.
* He had various conflicts of interest in transferring money from one client to another as an "investment."
* He failed to disclose, or even misstated, material facts to Nobel regarding the "investment" into Sugar Daddy's.
Rick DeBruhl, spokesman for the Bar, tells New Times that the Bar will be filing a complaint against Briggs with its disciplinary clerk. After he's served with the complaint, Briggs has 20 days to answer. Also, a hearing will be set within 150 days for an officer to weigh the evidence against him.
For more on Briggs and the Bar, see our column from earlier this year here.