STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Dianne Ford, Complainant vs. Stephen MacKinnon, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #01-0573
Pursuant to Practice Book ß2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 235 Church Street, New Haven, Connecticut on April 3, 2002. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on January 3, 2002, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Britain Judicial District and Hartford Judicial District, Geographical Area 12 and the towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Farmington and West Hartford Grievance Panel on February 27, 2002, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rule 1.16 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on March 5, 2002. The Complainant, represented by Attorney Kevin Rennie, appeared at the hearing and testified. The Respondent also appeared at the hearing and testified. Following the hearing, reviewing committee member Attorney Christopher Carveth had to recuse himself from this matter. Accordingly, this decision was rendered by the undersigned.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Complainant retained the Respondent to represent her in a personal injury action arising from injuries she sustained in an automobile accident on February 11, 2000. The Complainant eventually discharged the Respondent on September 12, 2001 and retained Attorney Kevin Rennie to represent her. In a letter dated September 12, 2001, the Complainant requested that the Respondent forward her file to Attorney Rennie. Attorney Rennie also wrote to the Respondent on September 12, 2001 and requested the Complainantís file, as well as an accounting of the Respondentís expenses. Attorney Rennie stated in his letter that he would protect the Respondentís fee interest pursuant to Formal Opinion No. 31 of the Connecticut Bar Associationís Committee on Professional Ethics.
After receiving the September 12, 2001 letters from the Complainant and Attorney Rennie, the Respondent contacted the Complainant by telephone and set up a meeting with the Complainant at her home. The Complainant initially agreed to meet with the Respondent, but after speaking with Attorney Rennie decided not to do so. Accordingly, when the Respondent went to meet with the Complainant on the scheduled date, the Complainant was not available. By letter dated September 17, 2001, Attorney Rennie advised the Respondent that the Complainant wanted no further contact with the Respondent and that the Respondent should not call or visit the Complainant again. The Respondent, thereafter, had no further communications with the Complainant.
Attorney Rennie sent several letters to the Respondent and placed numerous telephone calls to the Respondentís office in an attempt to obtain the Complainantís file. Attorney Rennie sent letters to the Respondent on September 26, 2001, October 17, 2001 and November 27, 2001. In October of 2001, Attorney Rennie was told that he could pick up the Complainantís file at the Respondentís office. When Attorney Rennie attempted to do so, he was told that the Respondent had the file in court and that the Respondent would bring the file to Attorney Rennieís office. The Respondent failed to provide Attorney Rennie or the Complainant with a copy of the Complainantís file. Attorney Rennie eventually reconstructed the Complainantís file and settled the Complainantís case in January of 2002.
The Respondent did not respond to the grievance complaint.
This reviewing committee also considered the following evidence:
The Respondent testified that he reviewed and copied the Complainantís file for transfer to Attorney Rennie. The Respondent further testified that he had no excuse for failing to transfer the file to Attorney Rennie. The Respondent stated that his file consisted of medical records and did not contain photographs or statements that Attorney Rennie was seeking.
Attorney Rennie indicated that a suit had been brought against the Complainant by the operator of the vehicle that struck the Complainant and that he still needed a copy of the Complainantís file. At the hearing, the Respondent provided Attorney Rennie with a copy of the Complainantís file that had been subpoenaed by this committee to the hearing. The Respondent acknowledged to the reviewing committee that he should have responded to the grievance complaint.
This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated Rule 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to promptly provide the Complainant and Attorney Rennie with a copy of the Complainantís file. The record indicates that the Respondent was discharged in September of 2001, and despite repeated telephone calls and letters from Attorney Rennie, failed to deliver the Complainantís file until the hearing before this reviewing committee on April 3, 2002. Attorney Rennie was forced to reconstruct the Complainantís file and settle the Complainantís case without the benefit of the Respondentís file.
This reviewing committee further concludes that the Respondentís failure to file a response to the grievance complaint constitutes misconduct pursuant to Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1) since the Respondent has failed to establish good cause for his failure to answer the complaint.
Lastly, we criticize the Respondent for contacting the Complainant after being notified that the Complainant was represented by Attorney Rennie. Such conduct is clearly prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct, and we caution the Respondent about engaging in such conduct in the future.
Accordingly, since this reviewing committee concludes that the Respondent violated Rule 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1), we reprimand the Respondent.
Attorney Noble F. Allen
Professor Paul Hawkshaw