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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2003-047

IN RE: GERALD HALFHIDE, II

S.J.C. Judgment of Disbarment entered by Justice Ireland on July 13, 2004.1

SUMMARY2

On July 13, 2004, the respondent was disbarred based on the misconduct described below.

Between October 31, 2002, and April 17, 2003, the respondent deposited $3,400 in personal and business funds into his IOLTA account at Fleet National Bank. The respondent commingled these personal and business funds with client funds that he maintained in the IOLTA account. By commingling his own funds with client funds in his IOLTA account, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15(a) (lawyer shall hold property of clients that is in his possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer’s own property), and 8.4(h) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct adversely reflecting on fitness to practice law).

During this same period of time, the respondent intentionally used client funds he had deposited into his IOLTA account to pay for his own personal or business expenses. On November 19, 2002, one of the respondent’s clients agreed to settle his automobile accident claim for $2,800. The respondent received a check for $2,800 on behalf of this client in late November or early December 2002. The respondent did not notify the client that he had received the check on his behalf. The respondent endorsed the client’s name on the check without the client’s knowledge or authority and deposited the check into his IOLTA account.

The respondent was entitled to a fee of $933.33 for his representation of this client. On December 3, 2003, the respondent issued a check to himself for $1,000 in payment of this fee and other funds to which he was entitled. After December 3, 2002, the respondent intentionally used the balance of the client’s funds to pay his own personal and business expenses. The respondent intended to deprive the client of his funds at least temporarily, and the client was, in fact, temporarily deprived of his funds.

Although the client tried to contact the respondent about the status of his case on several occasions between November 2002 and February 24, 2003, the respondent did not return the client’s phone calls or respond to the client’s requests for information about his case. After the client complained to the Office of Bar Counsel that he had not received his share of the settlement proceeds, the respondent failed to reply to bar counsel’s request for an explanation about his delay in paying settlement proceeds to the client. On April 15, 2003, after bar counsel sent a second request to the respondent for an explanation of his delay in paying the client, the respondent paid the client $1,866.67. To fund the check, the respondent deposited $1,800 in personal funds into his IOLTA account on April 17, 2003.

In July 2002, another client retained the respondent to represent him in connection with injuries that client had suffered when a car struck his motorcycle. The respondent ceased communicating with the client shortly after he was retained. On January 17, 2003, the client’s insurance company sent the respondent a check payable to the client for $2,000 for medical payment benefits. The respondent received the check and deposited it into his IOLTA account on January 24, 2003. The respondent did not notify the client that he had received funds on his behalf. On January 27, 2003, the respondent intentionally and without authority drew on the client’s funds in his IOLTA account by issuing a check to himself for $1,700. The respondent used these funds to pay his own business and personal expenses unrelated to the client, thereby depriving the client of his funds.

In March 2003, a collection agency contacted the respondent and demanded payment of one of the client’s medical bills. On March 5, 2003, the respondent issued a check for $209 to the collection agency. The respondent has never accounted to the client for the balance of the client’s medical payment benefits, and the client was deprived of $1,791 of those benefits.

By intentionally misusing the funds of these two clients to pay his own personal expenses, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15(a) and (d) (lawyer shall hold all trust funds in IOLTA account), and 8.4(c) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation) and (h). By failing promptly to inform his clients that he had received funds on their behalf, by depriving the clients of their funds, by failing to communicate with his clients about the status of their cases, and by failing to account for his use of client funds, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2(a) (lawyer shall seek the lawful objectives of his clients), 1.3 (lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing client), 1.4(a) (lawyer shall keep client reasonably informed about status of a matter) and (b) (lawyer shall explain matter to extent reasonably necessary to enable client to make informed decisions about the representation), and 1.15(b) (lawyer shall promptly notify client upon receiving funds on client’s behalf and promptly deliver to client funds client is entitled to receive), and 8.4(c) and (h).

The respondent also failed to cooperate with bar counsel’s investigation into allegations of misconduct against him. On April 22, 2003, bar counsel requested that the respondent produce copies of his monthly IOLTA account statements for the period from November 2002 through April 2003. Without good cause, the respondent did not respond to this request. Bar counsel repeated the request to the respondent to produce copies of his IOLTA account statements on May 8, and May 21, 2003. Without good cause, the respondent failed to respond to either of these requests as well.

On June 9, 2003, bar counsel sent a letter to the respondent by certified mail and first-class mail demanding a response to the outstanding requests for copies of the respondent’s IOLTA account statements within ten days. The letter warned that the respondent’s failure to provide the requested records would result in the administrative suspension of his license to practice law pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 3. When the respondent failed to provide any response to this demand, bar counsel filed a petition for administrative suspension against the respondent. On July 17, 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County entered an order administratively suspending the respondent from the practice of law pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 3(2).

Bar counsel served a copy of the administrative suspension order on the respondent on July 21, 2003. The order of administrative suspension required the respondent to comply with the provisions of S. J. C. Rule 4:01, § 17, if the respondent was not reinstated within thirty days. The respondent did not seek reinstatement, and, after August 17, 2003, he failed to comply with the requirements of S. J. C. Rule 4:01, § 17, in violation of the requirements of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 3(3).

By failing without good cause to respond to requests for information from bar counsel made in the course of the processing of a complaint, the respondent violated S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 3(1) (failure to respond to requests for information from bar counsel made in the course of processing a complaint shall constitute misconduct), and Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.1(b) (lawyer in connection with a disciplinary matter shall not knowingly fail to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority), 8.4(d) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), and (g) (lawyer shall not fail, without good cause to cooperate with bar counsel as required in S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 3). By failing to comply with S. J. C. Rule 4:01, § 3(3) (lawyer not reinstated from administrative suspension after 30 days shall comply with requirements of Rule 4:01, § 17), and § 17 (suspended lawyer shall withdraw from all representations and shall provide notice of suspension to clients, courts, opposing counsel), the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(d) and (h).

The respondent was admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth on June 19, 1997. Bar counsel filed a petition for discipline against the respondent on March 30, 2004. The respondent failed to answer the petition and the charges against the respondent were deemed admitted pursuant to Section 3.15(e) of the Rules of the Board of Bar Overseers. On June 14, 2004, the Board voted to recommend that the respondent be disbarred. The county court (Ireland, J.) entered a judgment of disbarment on July 13, 2004.

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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