STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Mathenge Maina, Complainant vs. Paul M. Ngobeni, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #06-0503
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 November 1, 2006. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on May 30, 2006, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Britain Judicial District and the Judicial District of Hartford for Geographical Area 12 and the towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Farmington and West Hartford Grievance Panel on August 2, 2006, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.16(d), 3.2, 8.1(2), and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant, to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and to the Respondent on October 5, 2006. Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(d), Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Jeffrey Donahue pursued the matter before this reviewing committee. The Complainant appeared at the hearing and testified. The Respondent appeared and testified.
Reviewing committee member Attorney Rita Steinberger was not available for the hearing. Since her participation was not waived, Attorney Steinberger reviewed the record, including the transcript of the hearing, and participated in this decision.
This reviewing committee makes the following findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence:
In November of 2004, the Complainant retained the Respondent to represent him in a driving under the influence and license suspension matter. The Respondent failed to appear in court when the Complainant’s case was scheduled. The Respondent also failed to notify the Complainant of his court date. The Complainant was sentenced to serve ninety days. The Respondent did not file an answer to this grievance complaint.
This reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Respondent testified that he did not answer this grievance complaint because at the time this grievance complaint was filed his license to practice law in the State of Connecticut had been suspended and his file was in the custody of the trustee.
At the hearing on November 1, 2006, the Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, which the reviewing committee denied.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Practice Book by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent’s failure to appear in Court on behalf of the Complainant when the Complainant’s case was scheduled to be heard, resulting in the Complainant’s incarceration, constituted violations of Rules 1.3, 3.2, and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s failure to notify the Complainant of his court date constituted a violation of Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
We do not, however, find clear and convincing evidence of violations of Rules 1.1, 1.5, or 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We find the Respondent’s failures did not involve a lack of competence. Nor do we find clear and convincing evidence of an unreasonable fee. While we find that the Respondent failed to appear in court on the Complainant’s behalf, we do not find clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent terminated his representation of the Complainant prior to his suspension from the practice of law in the State of Connecticut.
The Respondent did not file a response to this grievance complaint. Neither did he establish that he took any action to enable him to respond. The Respondent could have filed a response explaining that his file was in the custody of the trustee. He could have asked the trustee for a copy of the file. We, therefore, find by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated Rule 8.1(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1). While this violation constitutes misconduct, we decline to impose discipline for these violations of Rule 8.1(2) and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1) under the totality of the circumstances of his suspension.
Accordingly, this reviewing committee reprimands the Respondent for violating Rules 1.3, 1.4, 3.2, and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
DECISION DATE: 1/26/07
Attorney Rita Steinberger
Attorney Dominick Rutigliano
Mr. William Carroll