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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2000-045

IN RE: LORRAINE WILMA MORGAN

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Greaney on April 18, 2001, with an effective date of May 18, 2001.1

SUMMARY2

The respondent was suspended for a year and a day for multiple instances of neglect, failure to return client files and failure to refund the unearned portion of retainers, as described in an eight-count petition for discipline. Count One arose from the respondentís neglect of an estate. Counts Two, Four, Five, Six and Seven arose from the respondentís representation of clients in divorces. Count Three arose from the respondentís arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and related matters, and Count Eight arose from the respondentís failure to cooperate with Bar Counselís investigation.

As to Count One, both of the clientís parents had died testate, naming the client executrix of their respective estates. In March 1997 the client retained the respondent and paid her a retainer of $1,000. The respondent never filed the petition for probate of the fatherís estate, although she did file the fatherís death certificate with the Norfolk Registry of Deeds in November 1998. The respondent did not file a petition for probate of the motherís estate until March 12, 1999, after the clientís brother complained to the Office of Bar Counsel and at about the same time that the client discharged the respondent and requested return of the file and the retainer. The respondent promptly returned the clientís file, but did not refund the unearned portion of her retainer until June 2000.

As to Count Two, the client gave the respondent an $800 retainer for fees and costs in the fall of 1997 to represent her in divorce and custody matters. Despite repeated requests by the client, the respondent delayed in preparing the documents necessary to initiate divorce proceedings. After she did prepare the documents she failed to obtain the clientís signature on the affidavit of custody, and did not file anything with the probate court. In March 1999 the client terminated the respondentís services, requested return of her file and a full refund, and filed a complaint with the Office of Bar Counsel. The respondent did not return the file or refund the retainer until June 1999.

As to both Counts One and Two, the respondentís conduct in neglecting the clientsí legal matters, in failing to act with promptness and diligence in completing her undertakings on behalf of the clients, and in failing to communicate adequately with the clients is, for conduct prior to January 1, 1998, in violation of Canon 6, DR 6-101(A)(2) and (3), Canon 7, DR 7-101(A)(3) and, for conduct after January 1, 1998, in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4. The respondentís failure to refund the unearned portion of the clientsí retainers until after complaints had been filed with the Office of Bar Counsel is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(e). In addition, in Count Two the respondentís failure promptly to return the file is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(e).

As to Count Three, in January 2000 the respondent was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of property damage, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and driving after her license had been suspended. On March 12, 2000 the respondent admitted to sufficient facts in Quincy District Court. The case was continued without a finding and the respondent was placed on probation for two years. She was also ordered to perform 260 hours of community service in payment of court costs and fees. The respondentís conduct in this matter was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(h).

As to Count Four, in late November 1999 the client retained the respondent to represent her in a divorce. In December 1999 the client paid the respondent $111 for the filing fee plus $500 for one-half of the requested retainer. Between January 2000 and April 2000, the respondent did not reply to the clientís numerous inquiries as to the status of the matter and did not file the clientís complaint for divorce. In April 2000 the client retained successor counsel, who requested return of the clientís file and a full refund. The respondent did not return the file or refund the retainer until October 2000, after the client complained to the Office of Bar Counsel.

As to Count Five, in February 2000 the client gave the respondent a retainer of $1,650 for fees and costs to represent her in a divorce. Despite repeated assurances to the client, the respondent never filed anything on the clientís behalf with the probate court. In April 2000 the client terminated the respondentís services and requested return of her file and retainer. The respondent did not return the file and refund the retainer until September 2000, after the client complained to the Office of Bar Counsel.

As to Count Six, in May 2000 the client gave the respondent her marriage certificate and a retainer of $1,100 to represent her in an uncontested divorce. The respondent did not respond to the clientís repeated inquiries as to the status of the matter, and did not complete the documents necessary to initiate divorce proceedings. In September 2000 the client terminated the respondentís services and requested return of her file and her retainer. The respondent did not return the file until December 2000, after the client had complained to the Office of Bar Counsel. The respondent did not refund the unearned portion of the retainer. In December 2000 the client sued the respondent in Quincy District Court for return of her refund. Although the court entered a default judgment against the respondent in the amount of $1,130, the respondent did not pay the judgment.

As to Count Seven, in August 2000 the client gave the respondent her marriage certificate, her husbandís address, and a retainer of $2,000 to represent her in an uncontested divorce. The respondent took no action on the clientís divorce, and did not respond to the clientís numerous inquiries about the status of the matter. In October 2000 the client terminated the respondentís services and requested return of her file and her retainer. When the respondent did not respond to the clientís request, the client complained to the Office of Bar Counsel. The respondent did not return the file or refund the retainer.

The respondentís neglect of the clientsí legal matters, her failure to act with promptness and diligence in completing her undertakings on behalf of the clients, and her failure to communicate adequately with the clients is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4. The respondentís failure promptly to refund the unearned portion of the clientsí retainers or return the clientsí files is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(d) and (e).

During the period from January 2000 to April 2000 the respondent was either hospitalized or receiving intensive outpatient medical treatment. Thereafter she was incapacitated by the circumstances that led to her hospitalization. During this period she was unable to provide competent representation to clients, and did not associate with her an attorney competent to render the requested services. Given the state of her health, the respondent should not have accepted the cases described in Counts Four through Seven. Her conduct in this regard constituted further violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1. In addition, as to Count Six the respondentís failure to obey the court order requiring her to pay the client $1,130 is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(d).

As to Count Eight, the respondent did not timely respond to Bar Counselís requests for information regarding the allegations in Counts Two through Six, and never responded to Bar Counselís request for information in Count Seven. Her repeated failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel is conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(g) and Supreme Judicial Court Rule 4:01, sec. 3.

The respondent was admitted to practice in 1987. In aggravation, the respondentís disciplinary history consists of a 1991 informal admonition for neglect of an estate, and a 1998 admonition with probation for neglect of two divorce cases and failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel. In mitigation, the respondent is in treatment for anxiety and severe depression, and is fulfilling the terms of probation ordered by the court in connection with disposition of her conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The matter came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation that the respondent be suspended for one year and one day. On March 12, 2001, the Board voted to accept the stipulation of the parties and their joint recommendation, and recommended to the Supreme Judicial Court that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year and one day. On April 18, 2001, the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County entered an order of term suspension for a period of one year and one day, effective May 18, 2001.

1 The complete Order of the Court is available by contacting the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.

2 Compiled by the Board of Bar Overseers based on the record before the Court.



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