Judicial Referee and retired Judge, Gary Cassavechia, has imposed a March 21, 2017 deadline for the beneficiaries of the late Geraldine Webber to reach a settlement in a legal malpractice suit with Webber’s former attorney, Gary Holmes. Continue reading
The South Carolina Supreme Court adopted a new rule regarding the running of the statute of limitations in legal malpractice claims. In Stokes-Craven Holding Corp. v. Robinson, Op. No. 27572 (S.C. Sup. Ct. May 25, 2016), Plaintiff brought a legal malpractice claim against Attorney Scott L. Robinson, a partner at Johnson, MacKenzie and Robinson, LLC, related to an unsuccessful automobile fraud case. The malpractice claim had been filed four (4) months after a final appeal came down. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant attorneys because the filing was outside the three-year statute of limitations.
A Massachusetts attorney has been disbarred for engaging in activities which created conflicts of interest and for misusing client funds. The violations included (1) using client funds to purchase annuities from a company where the attorney was an agent and received a commission on the sale, (2) improperly cashing out existing annuities, which resulted in charges to the ward, (3) charging excessive fees to a guardianship estate, and (4) intentionally misusing over $10,000 of estate funds in another guardianship.
In April, 2016, the attorney submitted an affidavit of resignation admitting to violations of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct between 2007 and 2014. In June, 2016, the Board of Bar Overseers recommended acceptance of the affidavit and disbarment. The Supreme Judicial Court then adopted the recommendation and entered a judgment of disbarment effective immediately.
A client signed a fee agreement with an attorney for representation in her divorce. On June 26, 2013, as a condition of the signed fee agreement, the client tendered to the attorney $8,000.00 as a retainer for a divorce case and for a real estate closing. Upon receipt of the check, the attorney deposited the funds into her Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Accounts (“IOLTA”).
The following day, the attorney withdrew $5,500.00 and used it for purposes unrelated to the client. At this time, the attorney had neither earned this money, nor sent a bill to the client. Over the next month, the attorney continued to withdraw funds from the IOLTA until the account balance was approximately $1,000.00.
In early December 2013, the client terminated the attorney-client relationship. At the time of termination, the attorney had spent all but $500.00 of the money she had withdrawn, failed to provide the client with an accounting of the funds and did not return the $500.00 for several months.
An attorney who poorly represented a buyer of a residential property in Massachusetts has received an admonition for his conduct. The attorney was admitted to practice in Massachusetts in 1985 and had no disciplinary history. While representing the buyer in the cash sale the attorney acted as representation for the buyer in the sale and the settlement agent.
The sale took place on February 27, 2012. At the time of the sale there was a fence and a shed that belonged to a neighbor that encroached on the property.
During the sale the parties entered into an escrow agreement that stated the buyer’s attorney would hold $2,200 from the sales proceeds in escrow until May 31, 2012. The escrow agreement stated that the funds would be released to the seller upon complete removal of the fence and shed and if the fence and shed were not removed by May 31, 2012 the buyer would be entitled to the funds. On May 31, 2012 the fence and shed were not removed, and the attorney in question did not promptly deliver the escrow funds to the buyer.
Between February 2012 and March 2015 the buyer’s attorney held the funds in his Interest on Lawyers Trust Account, (“IOLTA”) and did not hold the funds in an interest-bearing account. The attorney received several inquiries from the buyer about the escrow funds, but did not make diligent efforts to obtain permission to disburse the funds. Around March 9, 2015 the buyer contacted bar counsel.
Bar counsel then contacted the attorney and the estate administrator, who had no objections to the release of the funds. March 11, 2015 the attorney released the funds to the buyer. The Massachusetts Rules of Professional Responsibility make it clear that failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness when representing the buyer and disbursing the escrow funds is a violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.3 and 1.15(c). The attorney also violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15(e)(6) by holding the funds in the IOLTA for three years. The attorney received an admonition for his conduct.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of a lower court, dismissing a legal malpractice claim against a lawyer and her firm, who allegedly failed to secure the execution of a will, just prior the death of the testate. The case is Riso v. Dwyer, Hillsborough northern judicial district, Case No. 2015-0361, decided on March 18, 2016.
Beatrice Riso, the Plaintiff’s mother, was 90 years old when she hired the firm. Sh had five children, but had disinherited two of the children in a prior will, leaving her estate equally to the three remaining children. Her son, Gregory, the Plaintiff was one of the three. In February, 2012, she hired Maureen Dwyer and her firm to redraft the will to exclude the other two sons, whom she thought had deceived her with respect to their intentions if they inherited.
Beatrice and the Plaintiffs met with Dwyer on February 28, giving her the necessary information in order for her to draft the will. Beatrice. Beatrice told the attorney that she wanted to execute the new will by March 2, 2012. She also gave her a letter from her physician stating that she was mentally competent to make decisions. The will was not executed by March 2, and soon after, Beatrice was hospitalized.
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) has issued public admonition against an attorney for failing to obtain a former client’s consent before representing a new client in a substantially related matter adverse to the former client. In Admonition No. 15-23, the attorney had been employed by the law firm for eight years. During this period, the firm represented the former client’s spouse, seeking modification of a divorce based on allegations of child abuse. The attorney did not directly represent the spouse, but was consulted on a financial issue in the case.
The attorney left to start his own firm, and several years later, was retained by the former husband to defend new allegations of sex abuse a civil matter filed by his ex-wife. The attorney advised him of his firm’s prior representation of the ex-wife, but forgot that he had been personally consulted on the case, and also failed to obtain the ex-wife’s consent to represent her ex-husband.
The ex-wife informed the attorney of the conflict of interest and requested that he withdraw as counsel, but the attorney refused. Counsel for the ex-wife then filed a Motion to Disqualify, which the Court granted.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently entered an order suspending an attorney for violations of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. In the Matter of Priscilla F. Arnott, an attorney was retained by the children of an elderly woman to obtain MassHealth Benefits on her behalf. After the attorney prepared and submitted an application for benefits, MassHealth requested that she provide additional information within two weeks. The attorney failed to meet the deadline and the application was denied. The attorney appealed the denial but still did not provide the requested information. Therefore, her appeal was denied and the attorney subsequently missed the deadline to vacate the dismissal.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently held that the simultaneous representation of business competitors by attorneys in different offices of the same law firm does not constitute a per se conflict of interest. In Maling v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP, the client hired a law firm’s Boston office to secure patents for his screwless eyeglass invention. After successfully obtaining the patents, the client discovered that the law firm’s Washington, D.C. office represented a competitor seeking a patent for its own screwless eyeglass technology.
The Supreme Judicial Court recently denied the application of a prospective attorney for admission to the Massachusetts bar on the basis that she lacked sufficient moral character. In the matter of Malgorzata Chalupowski, a woman, who had passed the Massachusetts bar exam, submitted an application to the Board of Bar Overseers, seeking to be admitted as an attorney in the state. The Board requested a meeting with the woman to discuss several disclosures contained in the application.