STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Jinny Antonelli-Martone, Complainant vs. James J. Hess, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #05-0647
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 1061 Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 4, 2006. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on July 15, 2005, and the probable cause determination filed by the Stamford/Norwalk Judicial District Grievance Panel on October 25, 2005, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, 1.15, 1.16(d), 3.2 and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the January 4, 2006 hearing was mailed to the Complainant, to the Respondent and to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel on December 2, 2005. Neither the Complainant nor the Respondent appeared at the hearing. Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(d), Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Frank Blando pursued the matter before this reviewing committee.
Reviewing committee member William Murphy was not present for the hearing. Since the Assistant Disciplinary Counsel waived Mr. Murphy’s participation, this decision was rendered by the undersigned.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Complainant retained the Respondent on or about November 9, 2004 to represent her in a marital dissolution. The Complainant paid the Respondent a $1,500 fee for the representation. Beginning in June of 2005, the Complainant was unable to contact the Respondent. The Complainant learned from the Respondent’s landlord that the Respondent had moved out of the state. The Complainant had to represent herself in court.
The Respondent did not file an answer to the grievance complaint.
This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in unethical conduct. The Respondent essentially abandoned the Complainant, in the midst of her legal matter. This constitutes a lack of diligence and a failure to expedite litigation, in violation of Rules 1.3 and 3.2, respectively, of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Such abandonment further constitutes a failure to protect the Complainant’s interests, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of Rules 1.16(d) and 8.4(4), respectively, of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The fact that this abandonment was done with no notice whatsoever to the client constitutes violations of both subsections (a) and (b) of Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent further failed to account for the fee charged, in violation of Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s failure to file an answer to the grievance complaint constitutes a violation of Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
This reviewing committee finds that the Respondent engaged in misconduct but finds under the circumstances of this case, including that the Complainant did not appear and testify, that such conduct would not otherwise warrant a presentment. However, the Respondent has three prior reprimands within the five year period preceding the filing of this grievance complaint: Benedetto v. Hess, #03-0120, reprimand issued on October 8, 2004; Arena v. Hess, #04-0056, reprimand issued on July 16, 2004; and Gaskin v. Hess, #04-0829, reprimand issued on April 22, 2005. Accordingly, this reviewing committee directs the disciplinary counsel to file a presentment against the Respondent in the Superior Court, pursuant to Practice Book §2-47(d).
DECISION DATE: 3/3/06
Attorney Rita A. Steinberger
Attorney Randy L. Cohen