STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Linas Stasaitis, Complainant vs. James Altham, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #97-0989
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 December 9, 1998. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on June 8, 1998, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Haven Judicial District, Geographical Areas 7 & 8, Grievance Panel on August 10, 1998, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on October 21, 1998. The Complainant and Respondent both appeared and testified at the hearing. Reviewing Committee member Alfred Belinkie was not in attendance at the hearing and the Respondent did not waive Attorney Belinkie’s participation in the decision of this case. Accordingly, Attorney Belinkie reviewed the entire record, including the transcript of the hearing, before participating in this decision.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent represented the Complainant in two civil matters arising out of an alleged overtaxation of real property purchased by the Complainant in Fairfield. The first civil matter was a tax appeal against the Town of Fairfield, brought by the Respondent in or around October of 1994. One count of the tax appeal was dismissed pursuant to a motion filed by counsel for the Town of Fairfield. The balance of the tax appeal was dismissed pursuant to then Practice Book §251, (now §14-3), for the Respondent's failure to prosecute the case with reasonable diligence. The second civil matter was a legal malpractice lawsuit against the law firm that handled the closing for the Complainant. The Respondent brought that lawsuit sometime in 1995. On or about October 21, 1996, the court entered a judgment of nonsuit in that case for the Respondent's failure to timely comply with discovery requests from the defendant law firm. Additionally, on or about December 27, 1996, the court dismissed the case pursuant to then Practice Book §251 (now §14-3), for the Respondent's failure to prosecute the claim with reasonable diligence.
In response to the dismissals of the aforementioned cases, the Respondent, on or about November 30, 1997, executed a promissory note in favor of the Complainant in the amount of $1,240.18 "for any and all claims which Linas R. Stasaitis may have to date hereof against James F. Altham, Jr." Prior to that time, on or about April 22, 1997, the Respondent had paid $500 to the Complainant for the Complainant's losses due to the Respondent's failure to prosecute the two claims for which he was retained. The Respondent had made no payments on the promissory note as of the date of this hearing.
This reviewing committee also considered the following evidence:
At the grievance hearing held on December 9, 1998, the Respondent admitted that he had failed to diligently prosecute the two civil claims for which he was retained. The Respondent also admitted that his communication with his client was lacking.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:
This reviewing committee concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent's failure to advance the pleadings and/or discovery in the two cases for which he was retained, leading to their dismissals, indicates a failure to practice competently, in violation of Rule 1.1, and diligently, in violation of Rule 1.3. Additionally, there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent failed to properly communicate with his client regarding the status of the Complainant's cases in violation of Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Accordingly, we reprimand the Respondent.
Attorney Lewis A. Hurwitz
Attorney Alfred R. Belinkie
Mr. Thomas J. McKiernan