STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Marion Edman, Rita Aronne, Complainants vs. Frederick Baldwin, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #01-0512
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 95 Washington Street, Hartford, Connecticut, on March 7, 2002. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on December 13, 2001, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Britain Judicial District and Hartford Judicial District for Geographical Area 12 and the Towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Farmington and West Hartford Grievance Panel on January 24, 2002, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.5, 1.16 and 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainants and to the Respondent on February 7, 2002. At the hearing on March 7, 2002, the Complainants appeared and testified before this reviewing committee. The Respondent did not appear.
This reviewing committee makes the following findings by clear and convincing evidence:
In February of 2001, the Complainants retained the Respondent to represent them in the settlement of two probate estates, including the investigation of a state lien for benefits paid to one of the decedents. On November 13, 2001, the Respondent was placed on interim suspension from the practice of law. On December 3, 2001, the Respondent met with the Complainants in his office to discuss the probate matters and requested an additional $l,000 in connection with the representation. The Complainants did not pay the Respondent the requested retainer. On December 4, 2001, the Complainants learned from the probate court that the Respondent had been suspended from the practice of law. The Complainants terminated the Respondent's representation and requested that the Respondent return their files. The Complainants further requested an accounting of the $1,548.34 paid to the Respondent and the return of the unearned portion of the retainer. On December 5, 2001, the Respondent returned the Complainants' files.
The Respondent did not file a timely answer to the grievance complaint.
The reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Complainants alleged that the Respondent failed to perform the legal services required to settle the estates. The Complainants further alleged that the Respondent failed to refund a significant portion of the retainer, since he did little work on the probate matters.
In an untimely answer to the complaint, the Respondent claimed that he spent numerous hours researching the State of Connecticut lien issue against the estate of one of the decedents. The Respondent further claimed that he encountered difficulty in obtaining the lien information, which did not arrive with supporting documentation until October of 2001. The Respondent indicated that while awaiting the lien documentation, he worked on those aspects of the probate process that could be completed without additional information.
The Respondent denied providing legal services to the Complainants after his suspension from the practice of law. The Respondent claimed that the December 3, 2001 meeting was previously scheduled and at the meeting he listened to the Complainants' concerns, which he intended to convey to another attorney. The Respondent further claimed that he was awaiting instruction from the trustee on what information to disclose to clients regarding his suspension. The Respondent indicated that he informed the Complainants that he would prepare a final accounting and that only $l,000 of the amount paid by the Complainants represented a retainer fee. The Respondent claimed that the balance of the Complainants’ payment was applied towards expenses.
This reviewing committee concludes that the Respondent engaged in unethical conduct in connection with his representation of the Complainants relative to probate matters. The Respondent continued to practice law while under suspension in connection with his December 3, 2001 meeting with the Complainants regarding the probate matters and his request for an additional retainer in violation of Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We note that the probable cause determination cites Rule 1.16 in the context of failing to return unused retainer funds. We do not find a violation of Rule 1.16 on the issue of failing to return unearned retainer funds. However, since a presentment is a de novo proceeding, we make the additional finding that the Respondent failed to withdraw from representing the Complainants after being placed on interim suspension in violation of Rule 1.16(a)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent failed to timely file an answer to the grievance complaint in violation of Practice Book §2-32(a)(1). The record lacks clear and convincing evidence of a violation of Rules 1.3 and 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct by the Respondent. Notwithstanding, in consideration of the seriousness of the Respondent's misconduct, we order that a presentment be filed against the Respondent in the Superior Court for the imposition of whatever discipline the court deems appropriate.
Attorney David A. Curry
Attorney Kathleen D. Stingle
Mr. Edward J. Sodlosky