STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Grievance Complaint #98-0679
Corrine Warr, Complainant
Joseph A. Cozzolino, Respondent
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, One Court Street, Middletown, Connecticut on July 8, 1999. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on February 18, 1999, and the probable cause determination filed by the Windham Judicial District Grievance Panel on May 6, 1999, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5(b), 1.16 and 8.4(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on May 28, 1999. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and testified. The reviewing committee also heard testimony from the Complainant's son, James McDonald. An exhibit was admitted into evidence.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
On December 9, 1998, the Complainant went to the Respondent's office and paid the Respondent $500 as a retainer to represent the Complainant's son, James McDonald, regarding a criminal matter. No formal fee agreement was executed, but the Respondent gave the Complainant a receipt for the retainer written on the back of a business card. The Respondent never spoke directly with the son. The Respondent went to the prison where the son was being held, but was unable to meet with the son for reasons beyond the Respondent's control. On the day of the son's hearing, the Respondent called the court to ask for a continuance. The Respondent was informed that a continuance would be given, but the son's matter was, in fact, heard that day and disposed of. The Complainant wrote to the Respondent several times, but received no response. The Respondent did not file a written response to the grievance complaint.
The committee also considered the following:
The Respondent testified that there was no written fee agreement due to the uncertainty as to the work to be performed. He further testified that he spent about one hour speaking with the Complainant and a number of hours at the prison on the day he was unable to see the son. He did not know until sometime in January, 1999 that the Complainant's son had negotiated the matter himself and had been released. At that time, the Respondent had a recurrence of an illness related to a prior heart attack, from which he suffered until March.
This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated Rules 1.4 and 8.4(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and therefore reprimands the Respondent. The Respondent's failure to speak directly with his client, or to otherwise contact him, represents a failure to communicate with a client. The Respondent also clearly failed to comply with his duty to file a written response to the grievance complaint. The committee is also critical of the Respondent's failure to ascertain the precise scope of his representation, his failure to formalize the fee agreement, and his indistinct manner of terminating the representation. However, under the circumstances here, the committee does not find clear and convincing evidence that these actions rise to the level of ethical violations. Accordingly, the Respondent is Reprimanded for violating Rules 1.4 and 8.4(1), only, of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Attorney Kerry Tarpey
Attorney Carl Fortuna, Jr.
Mr. Terrence K. Nichols