John King, Complainant, vs. Elizabeth A. Zembko, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #03-0547
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, One Court Street, Middletown, Connecticut on June 10, 2004. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on December 29, 2003, 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 April 20, 2004, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.15(a) and (b) and 8.4(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on April 29, 2004. The Complainant appeared at the hearing and testified. The Respondent appeared at the hearing and was represented by Attorney Peter W. Soulsby. Reviewing committee member Attorney Lorraine Eckert was unavailable for the hearing. Both the Complainant and the Respondent waived the participation of Attorney Eckert in this matter. Accordingly, the matter was heard and decided by the undersigned. Two exhibits were admitted into evidence.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent was employed as an attorney by Ericson, Scalise, Mangan & Zembko, P.C. (hereinafter “the law firm”) between 1988 and November 25, 2003. The Respondent was also a shareholder in the law firm, with signature authority for certain accounts, including its clients’ funds accounts. The Respondent misappropriated legal fees from the law firm by advising clients of the law firm to make checks payable directly to her in connection with certain matters that she worked on for the law firm. The Respondent also wrote checks to herself as fees from the law firm’s conservatorship accounts. The Respondent did not report or remit to the law firm the funds she received from clients for payment of fees, nor did she report or remit to the law firm funds paid to herself as fees from conservatorship accounts. The Respondent cashed or deposited the checks into her personal bank account. The Respondent also received checks in the amount of $9,543.60 and $10,367.86 for two estate clients that were deposited into her personal account and not reported or remitted to the clients or the law firm.
This reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Complainant contended that the Respondent embezzled in excess of $400,000 from the law firm. The Respondent contended that she has made restitution with regard to “any improperly withheld funds”. The Respondent further contended that all claims between her and the law firm have been resolved.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:
This reviewing committee concludes that the Respondent engaged in unethical conduct in connection with her misappropriation of funds. The Respondent misappropriated funds from clients and the law firm in violation of Rule 8.4(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent commingled clients’ funds with her own personal funds in violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by depositing clients’ funds into her personal bank account. Upon receipt of funds in which clients had an interest, the Respondent failed to notify and promptly deliver such funds to the clients in violation of Rule 1.15(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Since we conclude that the Respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, and in consideration of the seriousness of the 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. Furthermore, since a presentment has been ordered, and a presentment is a de novo proceeding, we order that the presentment complaint include a charge that the Respondent engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, by misappropriating funds from clients and the law firm.
Attorney Carl Fortuna, Jr.
Mr. George Sawyer