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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2002-070

IN RE: R. KEITH PARTLOW

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Spina on November 20, 2002, with an effective date of December 20, 2002.1

SUMMARY2

The respondent was admitted to the bar of the Commonwealth in June 1982. He was suspended in November 2002 as a result of seven separate matters in which he neglected personal injury cases and made misrepresentations to the clients and referring counsel to conceal the neglect.

In the first matter, the respondent was retained in or about 1992 to represent a client in a third party workerís compensation claim. Referring counsel had already filed suit. The respondent entered his appearance on November 3, 1992. The case was subsequently dismissed on June 8, 1993, when no one appeared for a pretrial conference.

The respondent thereafter took no action to move for relief from judgment and did not notify the client that the case had been dismissed. On multiple occasions between 1993 and 1999, the respondent falsely represented to the client that the case was proceeding. The respondent also made false representations in 1999 to referring counsel as to the status of the case, including fabricating a purported order for trial.

In the second matter, the respondent was retained in November 1993 to represent a client in a personal injury claim arising out of an accident that occurred when he was a pedestrian struck by an automobile on November 9, 1993. The respondent filed suit in May 1995 and a portion of the case was settled in 1995 when the defendantís insurer paid the $250,000 policy limit of the defendantís insurance policy. The plaintiff was not required to release either the defendant or the excess insurance carrier.

The respondent thereafter failed to answer, or to cause the plaintiff to answer, interrogatories filed by the defendant. As a result, the case was dismissed in November 1995. The respondent took no action to move for relief from judgment and did not notify the client of the dismissal. A year later, on November 5, 1996, the respondent filed a second suit on behalf of the client. The respondent did not serve the complaint on the defendant and the Court accordingly entered a judgment of dismissal on March 10, 1997. The respondent took no action to move for relief from judgment.

Between November 1995 and April 2000, the respondent on numerous occasions made misrepresentations to the client, his parents, and referring counsel as to the status of the case, including walking the scene of the accident with the client in April 2000 and falsely advising him that he expected the case to settle that summer.

In the third matter, the respondent was retained to pursue a medical malpractice claim on behalf of a client as parent and next friend of her son. The claim arose out of severely disabling injuries suffered by the son at birth in 1994. On or about August 18, 1997, the respondent filed suit on behalf of the client.

Unknown to the client or referring counsel, the respondent failed to take the steps necessary to obtain an expert witness and therefore did not submit an offer of proof to the medical malpractice tribunal. On September 22, 1998, and as a result of the absence of an offer of proof, the medical malpractice tribunal issued a report finding insufficient evidence to raise a legitimate question of liability. Thereafter, on November 17, 1998, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to file a bond. The respondent did not file an opposition and a judgment of dismissal entered on November 30, 1998.

The respondent did not advise the client that the case had been dismissed and, despite the fact that the statute of limitations had not expired because of the plaintiffís young age, the respondent took no steps to refile the lawsuit. On various occasions between November 30, 1998, and September 25, 2000, the respondent misrepresented the status of the case to the client and the referring attorney, including falsely informing the client in June 2000 that the medical malpractice tribunal had found in her favor.

In the fourth matter, the respondent in or before 1995 was retained to represent a client in a personal injury claim against a corporation arising out of an accident with a snowblower. On or about December 13, 1995, the respondent filed suit on behalf of the client. On February 17, 1998, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. The respondent was served but failed to file an opposition. The motion was allowed on February 26, 1998, and a judgment of dismissal with prejudice entered on March 10, 1998.

The respondent thereafter took no action to move for relief from judgment and did not advise the client of the Courtís action. In 1999 and 2000, the respondent on various occasions made misrepresentations to referring counsel as to the status of the case, including falsely advising referring counsel that a hearing had been held and that he was waiting for a decision on the defendantís motion for summary judgment.

In the fifth matter, the respondent was retained to represent a client in a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on May 23, 1994. On or about August 1, 1995, the respondent filed suit on behalf of the client. On March 31, 1999, the case was dismissed by the Court pursuant to Standing Order 1-88 based on the respondentís failure to file a request for trial. The respondent did not file a motion for relief from judgment and did not notify the client of the dismissal. The respondent failed to advise the client that the case had been dismissed and instead falsely represented to the client and referring counsel that the matter was still active.

In the sixth matter, in or before 1996, the respondent was retained to represent a client in a third party workerís compensation claim arising out of a slip and fall accident that occurred in her office building. On or about January 19, 1996, the respondent filed suit on behalf of the client. The matter was scheduled for trial on August 12, 1998. The respondent either did not inform or did not remind the client of the trial date. The case was dismissed in open court on August 12, 1998, when the respondent appeared without his client. The respondent did not advise the client of the dismissal. On August 19, 1998, the respondent filed a motion for relief from judgment, which was not acted upon.

Between August 1998 and October 2000, the respondent spoke with the client several times but did not advise her that the case had been dismissed. Instead, he falsely represented to the client and referring counsel that he was waiting for a trial date.

In the seventh matter, the respondent was retained in or before 1996 to represent a married couple in a third party workerís compensation claim arising out of slip and fall by the wife in her office building on April 11, 1995. On or about December 19, 1996, the respondent filed suit on behalf of the clients. The respondent subsequently failed to answer, or cause the plaintiffs to answer, interrogatories filed by the defendant. As a result, on May 1, 1998, the case was dismissed.

The respondent did not file a motion for relief from judgment and did not advise the clients of the dismissal. Instead, on several occasions between May 1998 and November 2000, the respondent falsely represented to the clients and to referring counsel that the case was still active.

In all of the above cases, the respondentís neglect of client matters and his failure to act with diligence and to keep the client reasonably informed of the status of the case violated Canon Six, DR 6-101(A)(3), and Canon Seven, DR 7-101(A)(1),(2),(3), as to conduct prior to January 1, 1998 and violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2(a), 1.3, and 1.4 as to conduct thereafter.

In all of the above cases, the respondentís intentional misrepresentations to the clients and to referring counsel as to the status of the clientsí cases violated Canon One, DR 1 102(A)(4),(6), as to conduct prior to January 1, 1998 and violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c),(h) as to conduct thereafter. In addition, the respondentís fabrication of a court order in the first matter was conduct in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c),(d),(h).

In mitigation, the respondent has been diagnosed as suffering from long-term major depression. He also cooperated in notifying his malpractice carrier and his clients of the problems in his cases and, where appropriate, in referring clients to successor counsel to attempt to reinstate the cases.

The matter came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation for a suspension of 30 months. On October 21, 2002, the Board voted to accept the stipulation and to recommend the agreed-upon disposition to the Supreme Judicial Court. The Court so ordered on November 20, 2002.

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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