STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Judith D. Evans, Complainant vs. Stephen Wippermann, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #99-0785
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 June 14, 2000. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on March 20, 2000, and the probable cause determination filed by the Danbury Judicial District Grievance Panel on May 16, 2000, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing also addressed a subsequent finding of probable cause issued by a reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee on May 30, 2000, finding that there was probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.1 and 3.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on May 19, 2000. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and testified at the hearing. The Complainant was represented by Attorney Richard T. Meehan and Attorney Rosemarie Weber. Exhibits were admitted into evidence.
Reviewing committee member Attorney Lewis Hurwitz was not available for the June 14, 2000 hearing. Attorney Hurwitz’s participation in the decision of this matter was not waived. Accordingly, Attorney Hurwitz reviewed the entire record, including a copy of the transcript of the June 14, 2000 hearing and the exhibits admitted into evidence at that time, and participated in the decision of the case.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
In April of 1997, the Complainant had oral surgery performed that left her with numbness and pain in her face. The Complainant retained the Respondent in January of 1998 to pursue a malpractice action against the dentist who performed the April, 1997 surgery. The Complainant signed a retainer agreement on January 27, 1998. At the time he was retained, the Respondent had never handled a dental malpractice claim.
Following his retention, the Respondent had the Complainant medically evaluated by Dr. Richard Resnick, an oral surgeon in Bridgeport. Dr. Resnick examined the Complainant on February 19, 1998 and evaluated her from a dental perspective, but did not evaluate her to determine whether the prior dentist had committed malpractice. The Respondent sought assistance from two other attorneys, not affiliated with his practice, and without the Complainant’s consent, regarding the Complainant’s claim. The Respondent, however, did not file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations, and did not advise his client that the statute of limitations had passed. The Complainant learned that the statute of limitations had passed when she retained Attorney Richard Meehan to pursue the dental malpractice claim.
This reviewing committee also considered the following evidence:
The Respondent submitted a report from a treating psychiatrist that indicated that the Respondent is suffering from depression. The Respondent has been treating for depression since January, 2000. This reviewing committee also considered a post-hearing motion to open evidence filed by the Complainant, which was granted, and a two-page letter prepared on the Complainant’s behalf by Attorney Weber requesting “a more lenient position on behalf of Attorney Stephen D. Wippermann.”
This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in ethical misconduct. The Respondent was retained in January of 1998 to bring a malpractice action on behalf of the Complainant. There is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent, who had never handled a dental malpractice claim prior to being retained by the Complainant, was not competent to pursue this type of action, yet did not so inform his client and proceeded to take the case anyway. The Respondent’s lack of competence in the area of dental malpractice violated Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, the Respondent’s failure to timely bring the dental malpractice action within the statute of limitations violated Rules 1.3 and 3.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Finally, although not the subject of a probable cause finding, this reviewing committee is concerned that the Respondent sought the assistance of outside counsel to aid him in the dental malpractice action without first seeking approval of his client. The committee’s concern is that with the unapproved use of outside counsel, there was the opportunity for a breach of client confidentiality. The Respondent is advised to be more cautious in the future.
The Respondent is reprimanded for violating Rules 1.1, 1.3 and 3.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Attorney Lewis A. Hurwitz
Attorney Randy L. Cohen
Mr. Michael W. Goodman