STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Curtis Turner, Complainant vs. Richard Lafferty, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #01-0053A
Pursuant to Practice Book ß2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 95 Washington Street, Hartford, Connecticut on January 10, 2002. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on July 17, 2001, and the probable cause determination filed by the Ansonia/Milford Judicial District Grievance Panel on October 23, 2001, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 7.5(d) and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on November 19, 2001. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and gave testimony. A previous hearing scheduled for December 13, 2001 was continued at the request of the Complainant.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
By letter dated April 12, 2000, the Respondent forwarded a retainer agreement to the Complainant for representation in a sentence review and modification matter. The letter was written on Attorney Frank Cannatelliís letterhead and advised the Complainant that the Respondent and Attorney Cannatelli shared office space and worked on cases together. The fee agreement was also printed on Attorney Cannatelliís letterhead and stated that the Complainant was retaining and employing Attorney Cannatelli and the Respondent to represent him in the sentence review and modification matter for a flat fee of $1,000. The fee agreement, however, was only signed by the Respondent. The Complainant signed the fee agreement and paid $500 toward the fee in May of 2000. The Respondent confirmed receipt of these funds by letter dated May 2, 2000 on his office letterhead. The Respondent wrote to the Complainant again on June 9, 2000 on his letterhead, advising the Complainant that a $200 balance remained. The Complainant, thereafter, paid the balance of the Respondentís fee.
On January 1, 2001, the Respondent was suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months. The Respondent did not file the Complainantís application for sentence review and modification prior to his suspension. The Respondent also failed to turn the Complainantís file over to the trustee appointed in connection with the suspension. Following his suspension, the Respondent failed to take any action in connection with the Complainantís case. The Complainant was eventually released from prison in December, 2001.
This reviewing committee also considered the following evidence:
The Complainant believed that he had retained the law offices of Frank P. Cannatelli to represent him and that the Respondent was employed by Attorney Cannatelli. The Complainant maintained that he received a Christmas card from the Respondent in December, 2000. Thereafter, the Complainant contended the Respondent failed to return his telephone calls or communicate with him. The Complainant stated that in May, 2001 he sent the Respondent a letter demanding a refund of his fee. The Complainant advised this reviewing committee that the Respondent refunded $1,000 to him prior to the commencement of our hearing.
The Respondent testified that he and Attorney Cannatelli shared office space from April, 1992 to November, 2001 and that he and Attorney Cannatelli were never partners. The Respondent maintained that Attorney Cannatelli referred the Complainantís matter to him and that he was solely responsible for the Complainantís case. The Respondent contended that he began drafting the Complainantís sentence modification application in June, 2000, after the Complainant paid the balance of the Respondentís fee. The Respondent alleged that from June, 2000 until the fall of 2000, he communicated with the Complainant and the Complainantís friend, Monica Osborn, regarding the supporting documentation needed to accompany the application.
The Respondent testified that by October, 2000, he had all the documentation needed to file the Complainantís application and believed that he could do so prior to January 1, 2001, the effective date of his suspension. The Respondent acknowledged that he should have turned the Complainantís file over to the trustee upon his suspension.
The Respondent further testified that the initial letter and fee agreement sent to the Complainant should have been on his letterhead and not on Attorney Cannatelliís letterhead. The Respondent believed that he prepared the agreement in haste, not giving much thought to which attorney would be handling the Complainantís case. The Respondent advised this reviewing committee that he has his own letterhead and retainer agreements. The Respondent maintained that he did not refund the Complainantís fee prior to the hearing because he was not aware of the Complainantís address after he was released from prison.
This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in ethical misconduct. We find that the Respondent failed to diligently represent the Complainant in connection with his sentence review and modification matter. The record reflects that the Respondent was retained in April, 2000 and as of the date of his suspension on January 1, 2001, he had failed to file the Complainantís application for sentence review and modification. The Respondent acknowledged that he had all the documentation needed to file the application as of October, 2000, yet failed to file the application prior to his suspension from the practice of law. Furthermore, upon his suspension, the Respondent failed to turn over the Complainantís file to the trustee or another attorney to attend to the Complainantís matter. The Respondent also failed to take any action in connection with the Complainantís file after the termination of his suspension. We conclude that the Respondent failed to diligently pursue the Complainantís matter in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
This reviewing committee further concludes that the Respondentís failure to turn over the Complainantís file to the trustee upon his suspension from the practice of law constitutes conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
We cannot conclude, however, by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondentís single use of Attorney Cannatelliís fee agreement and letterhead implied that he was practicing law in a partnership with Attorney Cannatelli, in violation of Rule 7.5(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Since we conclude that the Respondent violated Rule 1.3 and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, we reprimand the Respondent.
Attorney Anne R. Hoyt
Attorney Vincent M. DeAngelo
Ms. Johanna Kimball