The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) has issued a public reprimand against an attorney for misrepresenting a settlement offer to his client. In the matter of Derek H. DePetrillo, a woman hired an attorney to represent her in a claim against a loan company, which was making harassing phone calls to the woman. The attorney and his client entered into a contingent fee contract, under which he would only be paid if the claim was successful.
The attorney sent the loan company a demand letter, requesting payment of her damages, as well as his own fees and expenses. The loan company responded with an offer of $1,500.
The attorney subsequently informed his client that an offer had been made. However, he failed to tell her the total amount of the offer, only informing her of the amount she would receive, withholding the amount he had allocated for his fees and expenses. The client requested additional information, but instead of disclosing the actual amount, the attorney adjusted the settlement distribution, leading his client to believe that a new offer had been made. The client declined the offer, and demanded a full accounting of the settlement distribution.
The following year, the attorney approached the loan company, and advised that his client would accept $2000, half of which would go towards his fees and expenses. The loan made an offer in that amount. The attorney informed his client of the new settlement offer, but again failed to fully explain the terms. The client declined the offer, and the attorney withdrew from the case.
After learning of the attorney’s conduct, Massachusetts Bar Counsel filed a petition for discipline with the BBO, alleging that the attorney violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4 by failing to properly explain the settlement offer to his client and failing to respond to her requests for additional information. The petition further alleged that the attorney violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4, by intentionally misrepresenting the settlement offer to his client.
The attorney and Bar Counsel submitted a joint stipulation to the BBO, recommending that the attorney receive a public reprimand. The BBO subsequently approved the joint stipulation and the proposed sanction.
Decision: In re Derek H. DePetrillo