A single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), located in Boston, Massachusetts, has entered an order indefinitely suspending of an attorney after finding that he had misused client funds. In the matter of Michael J. Fenton, an attorney was hired as counsel for the executor of an estate, including as closing attorney for the sale of the decedent’s residence. After the sale closed, the attorney received the proceeds, which were to be distributed equally to the decedent’s three sons.
The attorney deposited the funds into his lawyer’s trust account and then paid two of the sons, but applied the third share toward personal expenses. The third son demanded his share of the proceeds and the attorney lied to him saying that the check may have gotten lost in the mail. Several months later, the funds had still not been paid, and the attorney admitted to third son’s wife that he did not have enough funds in the trust account to pay his share, but falsely claimed that it was due to his accounting error.
The Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) received a request to investigate the attorney’s conduct. The BBO requested that the attorney send copies of his accounting records for this case. The attorney failed to respond or provide any information, which was a violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.1(b) and 8.4(d). As a result, he was administratively suspended during the pendency of the disciplinary proceedings.
Several months later, the attorney paid the son his share of the proceeds, plus interest for the time that the money was withheld. The attorney entered into a stipulation admitting his wrongdoing and accepted an indefinite suspension from the practice of law. The stipulation was submitted to the BBO which accepted the purposed discipline recommended the same to the SJC.
The court ruled that the attorney violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c) and (h) by intentionally converting the son’s proceeds and lying about his conduct. Subsequently, Justice Ireland entered discipline of indefinite suspension, as purposed.
Decision: In re Michael J. Fenton