STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Farrell, Guarino & Boccalate, Complainant vs. Walter G. Johnson, Jr., Respondent
Grievance Complaint #99-0654
Deborah Larson, Complainant vs. Walter G. Johnson, Jr., Respondent
Grievance Complaint #99-0870
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted hearings at the Superior Court, 300 Grand Street, Waterbury, Connecticut on August 3, 2000. The hearings addressed two related matters, Farrell, Guarino & Boccalate v. Johnson, Grievance Complaint #99-0654, which was filed on February 3, 2000, and Larson v. Johnson, Grievance Complaint #99-0870, which was filed on April 13, 2000. For both matters, a probable cause determination was filed by the New Haven Judicial District, Geographical Areas 7 & 8 Grievance Panel on June 15, 2000, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.7, 1.15, 8.4(2), 8.4(3) and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
Notices of both hearings were mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on June 27, 2000. The Complainants and the Respondent appeared and testified before this reviewing committee. The Complainant Deborah Larson was represented by Attorney William L. Bouregy. Exhibits were admitted into evidence.
This reviewing committee makes the following findings by clear and convincing evidence:
The Complainant in Grievance Complaint #99-0870, Deborah Larson, is a beneficiary of the Estate of Douglas V. Johnson. Her complaint was also signed by thirteen other beneficiaries of the Estate. The Respondent, who is a grandnephew of the decedent, was named in the will as executor of the Estate, and was appointed by the Probate Court as executor, without a bond being required, on February 19, 1998. The Respondent was removed as executor by the Probate Court on November 30, 1999. The Complainant law firm in Grievance Complaint #99-0654 was appointed as the successor executor of the Estate.
In April of 1998, the Respondent opened an account in the name of the Estate at Dime Savings Bank, and deposited Estate monies into the account. At the same time, the Respondent diverted a portion of the estate monies into his clients’ fund account.
On June 3, 1998, the Respondent wrote a check from the Estate’s account in the amount of $46,934.49 and deposited it in his client’s fund account. The Respondent then used those funds to write a series of checks making distributions in an unrelated matter, the Angelico Estate.
On or about July 13, 1998, the Respondent deposited $19,253.58 from the Estate’s account into his clients’ fund account and then shortly thereafter wrote a check in the same amount to a client in an unrelated matter involving a Leonilde Lucente.
On or about July 27, 1998, the Respondent deposited $15,426.25 from the Estate’s account into his clients’ fund account, and then used that money to make a disbursement in an unrelated matter involving a Dorothy Stroehlin.
The Respondent also: failed to timely file the decedent’s federal and state income tax returns; failed to timely file his inventory with the Probate Court; failed to timely file the Succession Tax Return and reported incorrect amounts when it was filed, incurring penalties and interest in the amount of $3,201.21; failed to timely file the Return of Claims with the Probate Court; failed to file the Return of Sale for the sale of real property; failed to keep Estate funds in an interest-bearing account; failed to timely and accurately file his final accounting; and failed to timely produce documents as ordered by the Probate Court.
Additionally, the Respondent failed to file a written response to the grievance complaints in both matters.
The Committee also considered the following:
In the Respondent’s testimony, he essentially admitted the allegations of the complaints. He stated that he had no good cause for the actions he took, and acknowledged making poor decisions and mistakes. He explained that the last two years of his law practice have been very difficult due in part to the retirement of a partner from his firm. He stated that he has acknowledged his errors before the probate court and has made full restitution to the heirs of the estate.
This Committee concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s use of funds from the Johnson Estate to make payments on the matters of other clients constitutes a failure to safekeep property, in violation of Rule 1.15(a), and also constitutes the misappropriation of funds, in violation of Rule 8.4, subsections (2), (3) and (4). This misuse of Estate funds also demonstrates that the Respondent had a conflict of interest between his fiduciary obligations to the Johnson Estate and his obligations to the other clients, in violation of Rule 1.7. The Respondent’s failure to timely file numerous documents while executor of the Estate constitutes a lack of competence and a lack of diligence, in violation of Rules 1.1 and 1.3. The Respondent’s failure to file a response to the grievance complaints is a violation of Practice Book §2-32(a)(1). While the committee appreciates the Respondent’s candor in acknowledging his transgressions and in making restitution, given the seriousness of the violations, it orders that the Respondent be presented to the Superior Court for whatever sanctions the Court deems appropriate.
Attorney Katherine Webster-O’Keefe
Attorney Frederick W. Krug
Ms. Johanna Kimball