STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Michael S. Schnittman, Complainant vs. Sylvia D. Reid, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #02-0011
Pursuant to Practice Book ß2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 1061 Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut on December 4, 2002. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on July 5, 2002, and the probable cause determination rendered by the Hartford Judicial District Grievance Panel for Geographical Area 13 and the town of Hartford on October 10, 2002, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, 8.1 and 8.4(3) and (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on October 22, 2002. By letter dated October 28, 2002, the Complainant informed this reviewing committee that he would not attend the hearing and, in fact, he did not so attend. The Respondent appeared at the hearing and gave testimony. One exhibit was entered into evidence.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
In November 1996, the Respondent was retained by the Complainant to collect a judgment in a case entitled Citibank v. Murphy, CV93-0523347-S. The judgment debtor in that collection action was required to pay $15 per week or $60 per month. From January 1997 through December 2002, the judgment debtor paid the Respondent $4320 on the judgment. The Respondentís legal fee was 25% of the amount collected or $1080. As such, the Respondent should have remitted $3240 to the Complainant. As of December 2002, however, the Respondent had only remitted $2072.50 to the Complainant in seven (7) installments between June 1997 and April 2001. Thus, $1167.50 is due and owing to the Complainant from the Respondent.
On February 27, 2002, the Respondent issued the Complainant a check for $500 from her ďClient Collection FundĒ as remittance for funds collected from the judgment debtor. The bank returned the Respondentís check because it was drawn on a closed account. In a letter to the Respondent dated April 11, 2002, the Complainant requested a replacement money order or certified check. The Respondent did not respond to the Complainantís letter, nor did she replace the check.
The Respondent telephoned the Complainant sometime prior to October 4, 2002 and stated that she would forward the funds that she collected from the judgment debtor, including the $500 that was previously sent by check on the closed account. Additionally, the Respondent informed the Complainant that she would advise the judgment debtor to forward future payments directly to the Complainant. As of October 28, 2002, the Complainant had not received any payment from the Respondent nor the judgment debtor. By letter dated November 30, 2002, the Respondent instructed the judgment debtor to make future payments directly to the Complainant beginning in January 2003.
The Respondent did not respond to the grievance complaint.
This reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Respondent testified that the judgment debtor was faithful in making his monthly payments to her office. She also testified that once she receives the judgment debtorís check for December 2002, she would remit a final payment to the Complainant for $1167.50.
The Respondent admitted that she had very little communication with the Complainant. Additionally, the Respondent explained that she switched bank accounts and inadvertently issued the $500 check to the Complainant on the closed account, as she was extremely busy at the time she wrote this check.
The Respondent presented this reviewing committee with a letter summarizing the amounts collected and remitted in relation to the collection matter that was addressed to the Complainant and dated December 4, 2002, the date of this hearing. Upon questioning, however, the Respondent admitted that she did not send the letter to the Complainant, as she was unsure if he would be attending the hearing.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Practice Book by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent violated Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to fully and timely remit funds to the Complainant that he was entitled to receive. According to the Respondentís own testimony, the judgment debtor was faithful in making his monthly payments to the Respondent. Despite this, the Respondent offered no explanation as to why she did not remit the funds to the Complainant with reasonable diligence. Moreover, we note that the last payment remitted by the Respondent to the Complainant was in April of 2001. At that point, the Respondent stopped remitting funds for an unknown reason. The next time the Respondent attempted to remit funds was in the Spring of 2002 when she issued a check dated February 27, 2002 to the Complainant. This check, however, was returned as the account it was drawn on was closed. The Respondent, thereafter, did not issue the Complainant a replacement check or otherwise make good on that check.
By failing to respond to the Complainantís reasonable request for the Respondent to make good on the dishonored check, the Respondent violated Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. When the Respondentís check was returned by the bank, the Complainant wrote to the Respondent and requested that she make good on the check by providing him with a money order or certified check. Upon receiving such notice from the Complainant, the Respondent had a duty to respond to the Complainantís request and to make good on the check by issuing the Complainant a replacement check or money order. The Respondent, however, failed to respond to the Complainantís letter or make good on the check.
The Respondent violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. The Respondent collected monthly payments from a judgment debtor on behalf of the Complainant. The judgment debtor was faithful in making the monthly payments, but the Respondent did not remit the funds to the Complainant in a routine or timely fashion. The Respondentís failure in this regard could prevent the judgment debtor from successfully satisfying the judgment in the future as the Complainant may not credit the judgment debtor with payment made to the Respondent but not forwarded to the Complainant.
By failing to answer the grievance complaint without good cause, the Respondent violated Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1). The Respondent presented no evidence nor did she offer any explanation as to why she failed to respond to the complaint. We find that the Respondentís failure to answer the grievance complaint also constitutes a violation of Rule 8.1(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The record lacks clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated Rule 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We find the Respondentís testimony credible that she inadvertently issued the $500 check to the Complainant from an account that was closed. Although the Respondentís explanation of being busy does not excuse this conduct, we find that the Respondentís error was due to her carelessness, not a deceitful or dishonest motive, nor did it involve fraud or misrepresentation.
This reviewing committee takes judicial notice of the previous grievance complaint filed by the Complainant against the Respondent involving the same collection matter (Schnittman v. Reid, #01-1107). In particular, we find of significant importance the reviewing committeeís decision in that matter issued August 10, 2001, whereby the Respondent was reprimanded and ordered to attended nine (9) hours of continuing legal education courses regarding law office management. Like this grievance complaint, the previous grievance complaint involved the Respondentís failure to remit funds collected to the Complainant. At the September 20, 2000 hearing on the previous grievance complaint, the Respondent insisted that she had the funds and that she would remit them to the Complainant. Moreover, she stated that she did not think the committee would see the case again. We are deeply concerned that the Respondent continues to have serious difficulty remitting funds to the Complainant in a timely fashion, especially in light of the fact that she has already been reprimanded for her failure to do so.
We order that the Respondent be presented to the Superior Court for whatever discipline the court deems appropriate. Since the presentment will be a trial de novo, we further order that the presentment complaint contain a charge that the Respondent violated Rule 1.15(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by failing promptly to deliver to the Complainant all of the funds collected from the judgment debtor to which the Complainant was entitled to receive.
Attorney Rita A. Steinberger
Attorney Dominick J. Rutigliano
Mr. William J. Carroll