Grievance Complaint #98-0416A
Grievance Complaint #98-0416B
Lisa Wilson, Complainant vs. Bruce Rubenstein, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #98-0417A
Lisa Wilson, Complainant vs. Katherine Sendy, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #98-0417B
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted hearings at the Superior Court, 1 Court Street, Middletown, Connecticut on May 13, 1999, July 19, 2000, September 15, 2000 and March 2, 2001. The hearings addressed the record of the above-captioned complaints filed on November 19, 1998, and the probable cause determinations filed in each matter by the Hartford/New Britain Judicial District, Geographical Areas 13 & 14 Grievance Panel on February 5, 1999, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondents violated Rules 1.8(e), 7.2(c), and 8.4(a) and (c) (now 8.4(1) and (3)) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the May 13, 1999 hearing was mailed to the Complainants and the Respondents on March 10, 1999. Notice of the July 19, 2000 hearing was mailed to the Complainants and the Respondents on April 7, 2000. Notice of the September 15, 2000 hearing was mailed to the Complainants and the Respondents on July 26, 2000. Notice of the March 2, 2001 hearing was mailed to the Complainants and the Respondents on January 18, 2001. The Complainants and the Respondents appeared at the hearings and testified before this reviewing committee with the following two exceptions. Complainant Lisa Wilson did not appear at the March 2, 2001 hearing. Respondent Bruce Rubenstein did not appear at the September 15, 2000 hearing. Hearings scheduled for April 8, 1999, July 28, 1999, September 22, 1999, November 19, 1999, February 23, 2000, and December 19, 2000 were continued at the Respondents’ request. Reviewing committee member Terrence Nichols did not attend the May 13, 1999 hearing but reviewed the transcript of the proceeding prior to participation in this decision. The reviewing committee heard the testimony of Dr. Austin McCauley, Karen Kato, Yvette Bardox, Virginia Grant, William Brown, Victoria Craig, Christopher Willoughby, Norma Feeney, Linda Bedrosian, and Lewis Ferrari. Attorney Stephen McEleney represented the Complainants. Attorney Jacob Wieselman represented the Respondents. Exhibits were admitted into evidence. Post-hearing briefs were filed by the Complainants and the Respondents on July 13, 2001.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
The Complainants are former employees of the law firm of Rubenstein and Sendy (hereinafter, “the firm”). The Respondents are husband and wife, and partners in the firm with equity ownership interests. Complainant Lisa Wilson was employed by the firm between 1993 and 1998 in the position of paralegal. Complainant Regina Canty was initially employed by the firm in 1995 as a receptionist and then later worked in the capacity of a paralegal until 1998. During the period of time the Complainants were employed by the firm, the Respondents made cash payments to the Complainants and other employees in connection with their solicitation of business for the Respondents. Fifty dollar ($50.00) cash payments were made to the Complainants and other employees by the Respondents for each referral of a case to the firm.
The Respondents engaged in a practice of advancing transportation expenses to clients for medical appointments. The Respondents provided bus tokens and bus passes to clients to facilitate transportation to medical appointments. The Respondents made medical advances to clients and to providers for physicians’ treatment, prescriptions and medical supplies.
This reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Complainants alleged that the Respondents fabricated medical histories for clients in connection with personal injury and workers’ compensation claims. The Complainants further alleged that the Respondents employed a client, William Brown, who was simultaneously receiving workers’ compensation benefits for temporary total disability. The Complainants further alleged that monetary fees were paid to clients and members of the public who solicited business for the firm. The Complainants claimed that the Respondents advanced loans to clients characterized as medical loan advances.
The Respondents asserted that the Complainants were discharged from the firm for misconduct and were unsuccessful in unemployment compensation hearings and in a CHRO proceeding. The Respondents contended that they provided bonuses to employees based on a multitude of factors including their performance, financial need, loyalty to the firm, and in connection with the referral of a case to the firm. The Respondents further contended that the firm “paid bonuses on a liberal basis to boost employee morale, reward good performance and to celebrate holidays.” The Respondents denied paying referral fees to clients who solicited business for the firm. The Respondents denied providing personal loans to clients. The Respondents denied fabricating clients’ medical histories relative to personal injury and workers’ compensation claims. The Respondents contended that their actions in advancing transportation costs to clients was within the “costs and expenses of litigation” exception to the Rule 1.8(e) prohibition against providing financial assistance to a client.
William Brown testified that he was never on temporary total disability. Attorney Lewis Ferrari, who handled Mr. Brown’s workers’ compensation claim, testified that Mr. Brown was never on temporary total disability.
This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:
This reviewing committee concludes that the Respondents provided financial assistance to clients in connection with pending litigation in violation of Rule 1.8(e) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by providing bus tokens to clients for transportation to medical appointments and by making medical advances to clients and to providers for physicians’ treatment, prescriptions, and medical supplies. This reviewing committee was not persuaded by the Respondents’ contention that the advancement of transportation costs to clients was within the “costs and expenses of litigation” exception to the Rule 1.8(e) prohibition against providing financial assistance to clients in connection with contemplated or pending litigation. This reviewing committee further concludes that the Respondents made $50.00 cash payments to the Complainants and other employees for referring cases to the firm in violation of Rule 7.2(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Although this reviewing committee finds the Complainants’ testimony credible regarding employee receipt of referral fees from the Respondents, we find that the record lacks clear and convincing evidence to substantiate a finding that the Respondents paid referral fees to clients and other third parties for soliciting business for the firm. This reviewing committee further finds that the record lacks clear and convincing evidence that the Respondents violated Rule 8.4 (a) and (c) (now 8.4(1) and (3)) of the Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with allegations that the Respondents fabricated medical histories for clients and employed a client who was simultaneously receiving temporary total disability payments.
The Respondents engaged in ethical misconduct. Accordingly, we reprimand the Respondents and order the Respondents to attend three credit hours of a continuing legal education course in legal ethics, at their own expense, within six months of the issuance of this decision. The Respondents are further ordered to provide the Statewide Grievance Committee with written confirmation of their compliance with this condition within thirty days of completion of the continuing legal education course.
Attorney Kerry Tarpey
Mr. Terrence Nichols