STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Timothy S. Pepin, Complainant vs. Elton Williams, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #98-0076
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 13, 1999. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on July 27, 1998, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Haven Judicial District, Geographical Areas 7 & 8 Grievance Panel on September 10, 1998, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.15 and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on December 18, 1998. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and gave testimony.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Complainant, a chiropractor, treated the Respondent's client for neck and back injuries under letters of protection following two separate automobile accidents. The charges for the services rendered by the Complainant were $3,696.00 for the first accident and $2,400.00 for the second accident. During the course of the treatment, the Respondent initiated claims on behalf of his client against the insurance companies for the tortfeasors in each accident. At some point, the Respondent settled one of the claims for $4,200.00 and the other for $1,600.00. On or about June 29, 1998, the Respondent sent the Complainant a letter revoking the above-referenced letters of protection at the instruction of his client. Thereafter, the Respondent distributed the proceeds of the settlement and, to date, the Complainant has received nothing for the services rendered to the Respondent's client. No portion of the settlement proceeds were placed in escrow by the Respondent.
The reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Respondent acknowledged that he should have escrowed the settlement proceeds until such time as the Complainant's claims for his chiropractic services were settled. The Respondent indicated that it is now his practice, should a client instruct him to revoke a letter of protection, to escrow the settlement proceeds until such time as any interests on the file are extinguished.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:
The Respondent's conduct in distributing the settlement proceeds and not escrowing them pending resolution of the Complainant's claim for chiropractic services rendered constitutes a clear violation of Rules 1.15 and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The failure to escrow the settlement funds violated the duty to safekeep property in violation of Rule 1.15. Additionally, the conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(4). While this reviewing committee appreciates the candor with which the Respondent admitted his error in the handling of the file, the admission does not excuse the misconduct. It is the order of this reviewing committee, therefore, that the Respondent be reprimanded.
Attorney Lewis A. Hurwitz
Attorney Alfred R. Belinkie