Virginia State Bar reprimands Suffolk attorney

Published 3:33 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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By Jeff Moore and Ed Pugh

Staff writers

The Virginia State Bar has taken disciplinary action against a Suffolk lawyer for having improper contact with the defendant in a workers’ compensation case.

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Attorney Steven Morton Oser received a public reprimand Monday, Sept. 11, according to a news release from the state bar’s Office of the Clerk of the Disciplinary System.

“The First District Committee of the Virginia State Bar issued a public reprimand without terms to Steven Morton Oser for violating the professional rule that governs communicating with persons represented by counsel,” the release stated.

The VSB website states that a public reprimand is issued for more serious rule violations.

Bar association documents stated that Oser made contact with Smithfield Foods employment manager Laura Brooks on Sept. 16, 2022, in a workers’ compensation case that he was handling for his client, Blue Casteen.

In allegations of fact in the complaint, it states that Oser asked Brooks about a conversation she had with Casteen concerning Smithfield Foods’ position that his client’s injury was not work-related.

“Brooks stated that (Oser) asserted the injury was work-related and not personal,” the document stated. “(Oser) stated he had a doctor’s note; Brooks asked him to provide it. (Oser) asked Brooks to send him an email requesting the note.”

It goes on to say that Brooks did email Oser later in the afternoon to request the note.

“(Oser) emailed Brooks, provided a copy of the doctor’s note and asserted that he only contacted Brooks because he could not get in touch with the complainant (Smithfield Foods attorney Amanda Belliveau),” the allegations of fact stated.

It further said that Oser urged Brooks to contact Belliveau about the conversation in which Brooks advised that Casteen’s back injury occurred during (physical therapy) and was not related to work causing him to go out on medical temporary disability.

The document stated that Oser did not have Belliveau’s permission to speak to her client. On Sept. 17, 2022, Belliveau emailed Oser to tell him he could not communicate with her clients.

“(Oser) does not deny that he called Brooks then emailed her after the call,” the statement of facts stated. “(Oser stated that he was aware of RPC 4.2 when he made the call to Brooks but felt he had a ‘legal justification,’ ‘professional duty,’ and ‘moral obligation’ to do so. (Oser) stated that his client was frantic and fearful that he would be terminated without pay and would not be able to pay his bills.”

In the proceedings, Oser was found to have violated Rule 4.2 in the Rules of Professional Conduct for “communicating with persons represented by counsel.”

In a phone interview with the Suffolk News-Herald, Oser maintains he was doing what he thought was right for his client and had information he believed to be true, but later learned it was not.

“What really happened was I called these people with information I had every good faith belief was true,” Oser said. “Turns out, it was not true and they’re upset with me, complaining to the bar that I had information trying to influence a human resources person, just to call their attorney. The fact of the matter is that I didn’t even know what their justification was at the time, because I was mistaken. Not because it was a mistake on my part, it was just that was the only information I had … I did the right thing for my client, and I called when I shouldn’t.”

The rule states that in representing a client, a lawyer “shall not communicate about the subject of representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.”

The order summary handed down by the First District Committee found in a Sept. 11 hearing that Oser did violate Rule 4.2 and that “violations have been proved clear by convincing evidence.”

The order stated that Oser was present for the hearing Monday in Norfolk City Council Chambers, where the committee of the Virginia State Bar issued the public reprimand without terms against him.

Oser was admitted to the state bar in April 1989, according to VSB documents. His practice is located at 312 N. Main St.