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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2001-066

IN RE: JOSEPH PAUL SULLIVAN, JR.

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Cordy on December 11, 2001, with an effective date of January 10, 2002.1

SUMMARY2

In the late fall of 1992, the respondent was retained to represent a client in a personal injury claim resulting from an automobile collision on October 27, 1992. The driver of the other vehicle was cited for speeding, operating to endanger, and improper passing.

The client was hospitalized after the accident for four days. The client was employed full time at the time of the accident and, as a result of the accident, was out of work for approximately one month.

The available maximum coverage for bodily injury under the policy of the at-fault driver was the minimum compulsory coverage at that time, $15,000.00. After collecting PIP benefits, the respondent informed the insurer that his client had finished treatment for her injuries and that he would like to begin final settlement discussions. In June 1994, the respondent forwarded to the insurer hospital medical reports from the accident and indicated that he would be claiming the full amount of the policy. On August 10, 1994, the respondent telephoned the insurer and advised the adjuster that he was waiting for additional records and would forward them when received.

On September 26, 1994, the respondent wrote to his client and represented to her that suit had been filed in the Norfolk Superior Court. On September 30, 1994, the respondent received a report from the clientís employer documenting the loss of wages. The respondent did not forward this document to the insurer.

On October 7, 1994, the respondent informed the insurer that he intended to file suit to protect the statute of limitations and that he could not understand why the insurer would not then pay the policy. The adjuster responded that complete bills and reports were needed in order to make a fair offer.

On October 24, 1994, the respondent filed a lawsuit against the driver and owner of the at-fault vehicle. The respondent subsequently forwarded two summons to a constable for service. On or about January 6, 1995, the constable informed the respondent that he could not serve either defendant after a diligent search. On January 11, 1995, the respondent returned the two original summonses, indicated that he would be engaging the services of a skip-tracer, and that he would request two new summonses when new addresses were found.

On February 2, 1995, the Court entered an order of dismissal nisi due to the respondentís failure to return service of process to the court within ninety days. On October 17, 1995, the respondent filed a motion to vacate the dismissal nisi and to amend the complaint to add a current addresses for the defendants. On October 25, 1995, the court vacated the dismissal, permitted the respondent to file an amended complaint, and gave the respondent thirty days to file returns of service. On November 15, 1995, the respondent filed returns of service with the court. The respondent did not, however, forward a copy of any of these pleadings to the insurer.

On November 8, 1995, the insurer called the respondent and left a message asking if the suit was filed. The respondent did not respond. As of December 1, 1995, the insurer had not heard from the respondent for months, had not received formal notice of the lawsuit and had calculated that the three-year statute of limitations had expired. As a result, on that day, the insurer docketed its file to be closed in ninety days and in May 1996, the insurerís file was closed.

On January 22, 1996, the respondent filed a request for default as to both defendants for failure to file answers in the case. The respondent failed to follow up on this request and took no action in the case after January 22, 1996.

Between June of 1997 and October of 2000, the respondentís client left numerous telephone messages for the respondent in order to determine the status of her case but received no response. On October 3, 2000, the client telephoned the respondentís office and received a recording that the telephone number had been disconnected. The client subsequently retained new counsel, who settled the case.

The respondentís lack of diligence and his neglect of a legal matter entrusted to him was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.3. For conduct prior to January 1, 1998, the respondent violated Canon Six, D.R. 6-101(A)(3).

The respondentís failure to keep his client informed as to the status of her case was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a). For conduct prior to January 1, 1998, the respondent violated Canon Six, D.R. 6-101(A)(3).

The respondentís termination of his representation without notice to his client was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(d).

The respondent also failed to cooperate with Bar Counselís investigation, including failing to appear pursuant to a duly noticed subpoena. The respondentís conduct in this respect was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(g) and S.J.C. Rule 4:01, ß 3(1).

The respondent had a history of similar neglect. In June 2000, the respondent received an admonition for failing to file a property loss claim within the two-year limitations period spelled out in the insurance policy. The respondent also received an admonition in 1994 for failing to file a tax abatement application within the allowed time period. The respondent ceased the private practice of law in June 2000 and assumed retirement status.

On May 30, 2001, Bar Counsel filed a petition for discipline against the respondent. The respondent failed to file an answer to the petition or otherwise to cooperate in the disciplinary process and, pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 4:01,ß 8(3), the allegations were therefore deemed admitted. On September 10, 2001, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to recommend to the court that the respondent be suspended for one year and one day and on December 11, 2001, the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County so ordered.


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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