STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Donald F. Woods, Complainant vs. Richard J. Guliani, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #05-0412
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, 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 November 2, 2005. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on April 25, 2005, and the probable cause determination filed by the Middlesex Judicial District Grievance Panel on August 30, 2005, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.4(a), 1.15(a) and 1.15(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant, to the Respondent and to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel on October 3, 2005. Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(d), Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Frank Blando pursued the matter before this reviewing committee. The Complainant did not appear at the hearing. The Respondent appeared and testified. No exhibits were received into evidence at the hearing.
Reviewing committee member Attorney Margarita Moore was not available for the hearing. Both Disciplinary Counsel and the Respondent waived the participation of Attorney Moore in this matter. Accordingly, this matter was heard and decided by the undersigned.
This reviewing committee makes the following findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence:
Prior to September of 2003, the Complainant retained the Respondent to prepare estate planning documents on his behalf. Among the documents prepared by the Respondent was an irrevocable trust. The Respondent was the named trustee. The trust corpus consisted of over $100,000.00 deposited at People’s Bank.
On September 11, 2003, the trust corpus, then totaling $116,570.89 was withdrawn in a certified check payable to “Donald F. Woods, Irrevocable Trust, Richard J. Guliani, Trustee.” The Respondent endorsed the check as trustee to Fiserv, a financial clearinghouse, and deposited it at Webster Bank into a brokerage account.
Starting in late 2004, the Complainant attempted to communicate with the Respondent by telephone, regular mail and certified mail regarding the status of the trust. The Respondent did not respond to the Complainant’s requests for communication. The Complainant then retained Attorney John J. Palmeri to assist him in communicating with the Respondent. The Respondent did not respond to Attorney Palmeri until this grievance complaint was filed by the Complainant on April 22, 2005.
At that time, the Respondent did not recall the whereabouts of the trust corpus. The Respondent then contacted People’s Bank and requested that the status of the funds be researched. On May 6, 2005, People’s Bank faxed a copy of the September 11, 2003 check to the Respondent. On May 9, 2005, the Respondent faxed a copy of the People’s Bank check to Mark Blevins of Fiserv requesting a determination as to what account the check had been credited. That same day, the Respondent faxed a copy of the check to the Complainant and informed the Complainant that he had contacted Fiserv regarding the whereabouts of the funds and was awaiting a reply. On May 10, 2005, the Respondent faxed the Complainant a letter advising that Mark Blevins had informed him that the check had been deposited in Webster Bank on September 16, 2003, and that a check was then obtained from Webster Bank and deposited in a brokerage account.
Attorney Palmeri has indicated to Disciplinary Counsel that the whereabouts of the trust assets have been ascertained and is no longer an issue for the Complainant.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent’s failure to keep the Complainant reasonably informed about the status of the trust and to promptly comply with the Complainant’s reasonable requests for information constitute violations of Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Clearly, the Respondent had a duty to respond to the Complainant’s telephone calls and letters in late 2004. Furthermore, the Respondent’s inability to inform the Complainant of the whereabouts of his trust funds until May 10, 2005 constituted a failure to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of the trust.
The Respondent’s failure to keep and preserve complete records of the trust funds in and between September 11, 2003 and May 10, 2005 constitutes a violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, the Respondent’s failure, prior to May 10, 2005, to promptly render a full accounting of the trust funds upon request by the Complainant constitutes a violation of Rule 1.15(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Respondent has been disciplined by a reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee at least three times within the five-year period preceding the date of the filing of this grievance complaint on April 25, 2005. During this five-year period (April 25, 2000 - April 25, 2005) the Respondent has been disciplined in the following cases:
(1) Grievance Complaint #01-0722, Convicer v. Guliani, reprimand issued on February 6, 2004;
(2) Grievance Complaint #03-0294, Constitution Mortgage v. Guliani, reprimand issued on September 17, 2004;
(3) Grievance Complaint #03-0359, Bielefield v. Guliani, reprimand issued on September 17, 2004.
Accordingly, this reviewing committee finds by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent has violated Rules 1.4(a), 1.15(a) and 1.15(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We also find that the Respondent’s misconduct in the instant grievance complaint does not otherwise warrant a presentment to the Superior Court. However, since the Respondent has been disciplined pursuant to these rules by a reviewing committee three times within the five year period preceding the date of the filing of this grievance complaint, we direct the Disciplinary Counsel to file a presentment against the Respondent in the Superior Court pursuant to Practice Book §2-47(d)(1).
DECISION DATE: 12/23/05
Attorney Tracie Molinaro
Mr. William Murphy