Sims brought to court a $10,000 cashier's check to repay a retainer he received from a Michigan-based company, Casa Bandera. It hired Sims to handle an eviction proceeding and to sue over construction defects at six apartment buildings it owned in Las Cruces.
The disciplinary board of the Supreme Court found that Sims never filed a lawsuit in the case, missing a statutory deadline and causing "injury in the millions" to Casa Bandera.
But Sims fabricated documents to try to convince the client that he had filed a lawsuit. He even concocted paperwork and falsified the signature of another attorney on an "answer" sheet to the nonexistent suit.
Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes sentenced Sims to 30 days in jail but suspended the punishment because she said the Supreme Court found that he had made some effort in the last month to comply with its orders.
"You have damaged and hurt your clients, and we're trying to make them as whole as we can," Maes told Sims.
Sims had said he was expecting about $11,000 in pay from Sunland Park, the southern New Mexico city where he used to work as a prosecutor in municipal cases.
He said he learned only Tuesday that the money owed him by Sunland Park had not been forwarded to the Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel so he could repay the company he duped.
Sims said he hurriedly obtained a personal loan from someone in Farmington for the $10,000 cashier's check that he brought to court. Supplying the money helped keep him out of jail.
William D. Slease, chief counsel for the disciplinary board, said it was unclear if Sims owed money to clients other than Casa Bandera. The board will be better able to determine that once Sims turns over computerized records of his cases, something the Supreme Court ordered him to do Wednesday.
Sims previously provided only vague client lists and said he had no further records to share with the disciplinary board.
Slease also said Sims still was listed as the attorney for at least two clients, even though the Supreme Court permanently disbarred him in February. The Supreme Court ordered him to withdraw from all cases he was involved in as a lawyer so that clients could find new representation.
Justice Charles Daniels seemed especially frustrated with Sims after lengthy questioning about whether Sims had a certain account ledger.
"You have lied eye to eye to us. Did your files catch on fire or did your dog eat them?" Daniels said to Sims.
Maes asked him how he would repay any other clients if the court's review turned up evidence that he received money for services he never provided.
Sims, 32, said he is unemployed but looking for work. He said he would pay his debts "as best I can."
He was a lawyer for six years and had no history of disciplinary problems until the Casa Bandera case.
Maes also asked him why the Supreme Court should not send him to jail.
"I believe I've done everything I can to comply with the court's order. I don't believe my incarceration enhances the health or the safety of the people of New Mexico," Sims said.
Slease said the state bar has a self-insurance fund to pay back clients who were defrauded by their attorney. If more valid claims surface against Sims, he would have to repay the fund for any money it expends, Slease said.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at email@example.com or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.comJ.