Mass.gov
   
Mass.Gov home Mass.gov  home get things done agencies Search Mass.Gov


Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2004-004

IN RE: NORRIS COLEMAN

S.J.C. Judgment of Disbarment entered by Justice Cordy on January 27, 2004.1

SUMMARY2

Bar Counsel filed a five-count petition for discipline against the respondent in February 2003. Count One arose from the respondent's representation of a husband and wife in their claims for damages from personal injuries resulting from an automobile accident on May 1, 1997. The clients signed a contingent fee agreement in May 1997, but the respondent did not provide them with a copy of the agreement.

The respondent settled the clients' personal injury claims against the other driver without their knowledge or authorization. On November 13, 1997, the insurer for the other driver issued a check in the amount of $5,435 payable jointly to the husband and the respondent and a second check on behalf of the husband payable jointly to a physical therapist and the respondent in the amount of $2,065. On the same date, the insurer issued a third check in the amount of $4,510 payable jointly to the wife and the respondent and a fourth check on behalf of the wife payable jointly to the same physical therapist and the respondent in the amount of $2,590.

On November 20, 1997, the respondent deposited the two settlement checks into his business account and did not advise the clients that he had received the checks. The respondent commingled and intentionally converted the clients' settlement funds, with actual deprivation to the clients resulting. The respondent did so for his own business or personal purposes and to pay an unrelated client.

In December 1997, and without the knowledge of the physical therapist, the respondent endorsed, or caused to be endorsed, the signature of the physical therapist on the two checks, totaling $4,655, from the insurer on which the physical therapist was a payee. He deposited, or caused to be deposited, these checks to his wife's personal checking account. The funds were converted for the business or personal purposes of the respondent's family.

In December 1997, the respondent also received a total of $10,099.10 in five checks from the clients' own insurance company, made payable to their medical providers for no-fault medical payments. Between December 1997 and February 1998, the respondent endorsed, or caused to be endorsed, the signatures of the medical providers on these five checks and deposited these sums, or caused them to be deposited, to his wife's checking account. By April 1998, all but $2,465 of these funds had been converted for his own or his family's business or personal purposes, with actual deprivation resulting to the clients.

Between May 1997 and September 1990, the clients repeatedly telephoned the respondent's office for information on the status of their case. The respondent did not return the clients' telephone messages. In September 1999, the clients retained new counsel. Successor counsel discovered that the respondent had settled the personal injury claims of the clients.

The respondent's conduct in failing to provide a contingent fee agreement violated Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:05 and Canon Two, Disciplinary Rule 2-106(C). The respondent's conduct in settling the clients' claims without their authority, and in endorsing the clients' names on the settlement checks without their authority, violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A) (4) and (6), and Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A) (1)-(3), for the period prior to 1998, and Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2(a), 1.3, 8.4(c) and (h), for the period after 1998.

The respondent's conduct in intentionally converting settlement funds due the clients and their medical providers with intent to deprive and with actual deprivation resulting, in failing to promptly inform the clients of the receipt of their settlement checks, in failing to promptly pay the clients and their medical providers, in commingling or causing to be commingled clients' funds in his business account and in his wife's personal checking account and in failing to maintain and safeguard client funds in a designated trust account, violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A) (4) and (6), Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A) (1)-(3), and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(A)-(C), for the period prior to 1998, and Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4(a), 1.115 (a), (b) and (d) and 8.4(c) and (h), for the period after 1998.

In the second count, the respondent represented a mother, as next friend of her son, for personal injuries resulting from an automobile accident in June 1996. In October 1997, with the client's assent, the respondent settled the son's claims for $12,000. In October 1997, the respondent deposited the settlement funds to his business account, thereby commingling client's funds with his business and personal funds. The respondent intentionally converted a portion of the client's funds between October and November 1997 for his own business and personal purposes or those of unrelated clients. In December 1997, the respondent paid the client by a check drawn on his business account and made possible by the deposit of the unrelated trust funds belonging to the clients in count one.

In about January 1998, the same client retained the respondent to represent her in a claim for personal injuries sustained in an automobile accident in January 1998. The client provided the respondent with papers and other materials related to her accident. Between January 1998 and June 2001, the client telephoned the respondent several times seeking information on the status of her case. The respondent failed to return her telephone calls. In June 2001, the client discharged the respondent and requested her file. The respondent failed to provide the file to the client. The client's successor counsel wrote to the respondent in July and August 2001 requesting her file. The respondent never returned the file to his former client or to her new counsel.

The respondent's conduct in intentionally using the client's settlement funds with intent to deprive the client at least temporarily and with actual deprivation resulting, in commingling client's funds in this business account and in failing to maintain and safeguard client funds violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A) (4) and (6), Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A) (1)-(3), and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(A)-(C).

In the third count, the respondent undertook to represent a client who had retired and liquidated his pension plan account. The client believed that the check he received representing the proceeds of his pension was insufficient and that he was owed an additional $1,700. The respondent agreed to recover the difference for a flat fee. In June 1997, the respondent instructed the client to give him the pension check. The respondent falsely represented to the client that he would return the pension check to the financial institution that had remitted the check in order to recover the full amount due the client.

The respondent endorsed, or caused to be endorsed, the client's signature to the pension check and deposited it, or caused it to be deposited, to his wife's personal checking account in June 1997. By August 1997, the client's funds had been converted for the respondent's own or his family's business or personal purposes.

In June 1997, the respondent falsely represented to the client that he had returned the pension check to the financial institution and that he was waiting for a response. Between August and October 1997, the client repeatedly telephoned the respondent regarding the status of his pension funds. The respondent did not return the client's telephone calls.

In October 1997, the client engaged new counsel to represent him. The client's successor counsel learned from the financial institution that the pension check had been negotiated and deposited to the respondent's wife's personal checking account. Although the respondent agreed to repay the client through successor counsel, he never did so. The client was forced to sue the respondent and his wife for fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract and violation of G.L. c. 93A. The defendants defaulted and a judgment entered against the respondent and his wife. In June 1994, the client received an attachment on the respondent's condominium. In January 2001, the court issued an execution against the respondent and his wife in the amount of $54,883.50. Following a subsequent foreclosure and sale of the condominium by the mortgagee, the client was paid $54,883.59 from surplus funds held by the mortgagee.

The respondent's false representations to the client in order to induce him to turn over his pension check, and his false representations that he had returned the pension check to the remitter when he instead had caused the check to be deposited to his wife's personal checking account, violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A) (4) and (6), Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A) (1)-(3). The respondent's conduct in intentionally converting the client's pension funds, with intent to deprive the client and with actual deprivation resulting, violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A) (4) and (6), Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A) (1)-(3) and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(A)-(C).

In fourth count, the respondent and his wife contacted a loan broker, seeking assistance in procuring a loan to avoid foreclosure on their residential condominium. In October 2000, the parties signed an agreement to pay the loan broker 5% of any loan amount to be paid at the time of closing. Pursuant to the agreement, the broker obtained a first mortgage loan commitment from a lender.

At the closing, and in order to clear title on the condominium, the respondent presented the closing attorney with discharges of attachments and liens purportedly signed by the client in count three and by a trustee of the condominium association, notarized by a notary public. These releases had not in fact been executed or notarized. The respondent had signed, or caused to be signed, the names of the releasing parties and of the notaries without their knowledge or consent. The respondent and his wife also signed a promissory note to pay the loan broker's commission, secured by a mortgage on the condominium.

After the closing, the closing attorney discovered that the releases provided by the respondent had been falsified. The attorney did not consummate the refinancing and did not record the two new mortgages.

In November 2000, the existing mortgagee went forward with the foreclosure and caused the respondent's condominium to be sold at public auction. After satisfaction of the debt, there was a surplus of $115,132.42. The mortgagee filed a complaint in interpleader regarding the mortgage foreclosure surplus proceeds. The defendants included among others, the client in count three and the loan broker. In June 2001, the respondent settled the claim of his former client in count three, and in February 2002, the respondent settled the claim of the loan broker.

The respondent's conduct in falsely representing to the closing attorney that he had received discharges on the condominium and in presenting falsified discharges at the closing in an attempt to defraud the parties holding attachments and the new mortgagee violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(a), (b), (c) and (h).

Count five charged the respondent with failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel's investigation, in violation of Supreme Judicial Court Rule 4:01 § 3, and Canon One, Disciplinary Rules 1-102(A)(5) and (6), for the period prior to 1998, and Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.1(b) and 8.4 (d), (g) and (h), for the period beginning on January 1, 1998.

On November 17, 2003, the respondent submitted his affidavit of resignation from the practice of law. The respondent admitted in the affidavit that the material facts and disciplinary violations set forth in Bar Counsel's petition would be established by sufficient evidence. On December 8, 2003, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to recommend that the affidavit of resignation be accepted and that an order of disbarment be entered. The Court so ordered on January 27, 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.



BBO/OBC Privacy Policy. Please direct all questions to webmaster@massbbo.org.
© 2004. Board of Bar Overseers. Office of Bar Counsel. All rights reserved.