STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Barbara K. Butler, Complainant vs. Douglas Daniels, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #99-0324
Pursuant to Practice Book ß2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 300 Grand Street, Waterbury, Connecticut on May 4, 2000. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on October 4, 1999, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Haven Judicial District, Geographical Area 6 Grievance Panel on March 13, 2000, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.4 and 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Section 2-32(a)(1) of the Practice Book.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on March 23, 2000. The Complainant and the Respondent both appeared and testified at the hearing. The Complainant was represented by Attorney Jeffrey A. Schwartz. Exhibits were admitted into evidence.
This reviewing committee finds the following findings by clear and convincing evidence:
In October of 1997, the Complainant retained the Respondent to represent her in a legal separation from her husband. At or around the time she retained the Respondent, the Complainant paid the Respondent a $5,000.00 retainer. In late October, 1997, the Complainant spoke with the Respondent and indicated that she was not going to pursue the legal separation from her husband. At that time, the Complainant did not ask the Respondent to return her retainer. In late April of 1998, the Complainant reconciled with her husband. Thereafter, in July of 1998, the Complainant wrote the Respondent and requested the full refund of her retainer. The Respondent did not respond to the July, 1998 letter, and thereafter, the Complainant sent another letter, by certified mail, in September of 1998 to once again request a refund of her retainer. The Respondent did not respond to this letter either, and the Complainant sent a third letter in October of 1998 to demand her retainer back. The Respondent did not respond to the October letter.
Having received no response to her demand letters, the Complainant retained counsel to file a lawsuit against the Respondent in order to obtain the retainer back from him. A copy of this lawsuit was served in-hand on the Respondent by Deputy Sheriff Robert A. Aceto on December 30, 1998. The Respondent did not appear and defend himself against the lawsuit brought by the Complainant, and on March 30, 1999, the court entered judgment in favor of the Complainant in the amount of $5,708.90. The Complainantís counsel wrote the Respondent in July of 1999 to inform him of the judgment against him. This grievance complaint was filed because the Respondent did not pay the judgment.
This reviewing committee also considered the following evidence:
Two days before the hearing on this grievance complaint, the Respondent paid the Complainant $6,578.46, which represented the judgment plus post-judgment statutory interest of ten percent. The Respondent also indicated a willingness on the record at the grievance hearing to reimburse the Complainant for any additional legal fees she incurred to obtain the judgment against him. The Respondent testified that he did not receive any of the demand letters written by the Complainant and has had an ongoing difficulty in receiving mail at his office address. The Respondent claimed he first learned about the Complainantís lawsuit against him, and the fact that there was a judgment against him, in the fall of 1999 when he was contacted by counsel to the local grievance panel in New Haven, which was investigating the Complainantís grievance complaint.
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 Respondentís conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. We conclude that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent was personally served with a copy of the Complainantís lawsuit, but did not appear in the matter then did not timely pay the judgment rendered against him. We conclude that this conduct violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We also believe that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent knew of the grievance complaint in the fall of 1999 when he was contacted by panel counsel, but did not file an answer to the complaint in violation of Section 2-32(a)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. We do not find credible the Respondentís testimony that panel counselís notification to him of the lawsuit and judgment in the fall of 1999 was his first notice of the lawsuit. The Respondent was clearly served in-hand by a sheriff in December of 1998.
We do not find clear and convincing evidence that the Respondentís conduct in this matter violated Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In light of the seriousness of this misconduct, and our questions regarding the Respondentís credibility, we would normally order the Respondent to be presented to the Superior Court for whatever discipline the court deemed appropriate. We choose, instead, to reprimand the Respondent for his misconduct, since we note that the Respondent has paid the entire amount of the judgment plus statutory interest to the Complainant, and has represented, under oath, and on the record at the grievance hearing, that he will reimburse the Complainant for any additional legal fees she incurred as a result of the lawsuit filed against him.
The Respondent is reprimanded for violating Rule 8.4(4) and Practice Book ß2-32(a)(1) of the Practice Book.
Attorney Frederick W. Krug
Attorney Katherine Webster-OíKeefe
Ms. Jean Peterson