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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

BD-2005-056

IN RE: VALERIA JEAN BIANCO

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Spina on July 20, 2005, with an effective date of August 19, 2005.1

S.J.C. Judgment of Reinstatement entered by Justice Spina on November 21, 2008.

SUMMARY2

This matter came before the Court on an Information and record of proceedings with the vote and recommendation of the Board of Bar Overseers that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year and a day. After a full hearing on this matter, the hearing committee recommended that the respondent be suspended for one year. The parties waived their rights to appeal and stipulated to a recommendation that the respondent be suspended for one year and one day.

The respondent was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth on December 13, 1999. In April 2000, the respondent commenced her first legal employment as an independent contractor for a Rhode Island attorney (“the respondent’s employer”) whose office is located in Providence. The respondent’s employer represented a hospital and one of its employees as defendants in an employment discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff in that lawsuit had been the operating room secretary at the hospital until she was terminated by the hospital in 1994.

In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the head nurse in the operating room had sexually harassed her. She further alleged that the hospital illegally terminated her in retaliation for making a complaint about the harassment, and that the defendants’ illegal conduct caused her substantial damages in the form of lost wages, emotional distress, and the cost of medical treatment.

Beginning in July 2000, the respondent’s employer gave the respondent numerous assignments on the case. Among other assignments, the respondent drafted responses to discovery propounded by the plaintiff, attended but did not participate in three depositions, performed legal research and edited case evaluation reports.

In April 2001, at the direction of her employer, the respondent attended a settlement conference with the plaintiff and her attorney. This was the first occasion on which the respondent and the plaintiff engaged in discussions concerning the case.

The settlement conference ended without settlement because the parties were too far apart.

Beginning the day after the settlement conference ended and over the next several weeks, the plaintiff repeatedly called the respondent’s home.

Until May 8, 2001, the respondent’s answering machine picked up the calls, and the plaintiff did not leave any message.

On May 8, 2001, the plaintiff reached the respondent and they talked for thirty-four minutes.

Although the respondent knew the conversation was improper, she did not terminate the conversation.

The respondent and the plaintiff agreed that they would not tell anyone about the conversation.

Between May 8 and September 17, 2003, the respondent and the plaintiff spoke on the telephone at least eighty times.

Twenty-five of those conversations lasted a half hour or more. During some portion of these conversations, the respondent and the plaintiff discussed the substance of the sexual harassment case. The respondent took no action of substance to stop the plaintiff from conversing.

She did not notify her employer or opposing counsel that she had communicated with the plaintiff, and she intentionally kept the communication a secret. The respondent’s clients, the hospital and its employee, did not consent to the communications. Nor did the plaintiff’s attorney.

Trial in the sexual harassment case was originally scheduled for May 2001. It was continued several times between May and July 2001.

On July 20, 2001, it was continued again until September 3, 2001. During August and the first part of September, both sides engaged in active preparation for trial. The respondent continued to work on assignments concerning the case through mid-September 2001.

During this period, she was planning to attend and assist her employer during the trial. However, the respondent’s employment ended on September 12 or 13, 2001.

Trial commenced on Monday, September 24, 2001.

By Thursday, September 27, the plaintiff’s attorney believed the trial was going well for his client. On Thursday afternoon the plaintiff and her attorney met in the attorney’s office to prepare her testimony for the following day. At that meeting, the plaintiff for the first time disclosed to her attorney that she had been conversing with the respondent for several months, and that they had discussed all aspects of the case.

The following morning, in chambers, the plaintiff’s attorney disclosed the fact of the communications to the court and to the respondent’s employer.

The respondent’s employer told the court that the respondent had not disclosed to him any information she had learned from the plaintiff.

After considering the circumstances for a few days, the judge essentially declared a mistrial and appointed a special master to advise the court on the extent of the damage to the case. Thereafter, the hospital retained new counsel, who settled the case. The hospital transferred six other cases that were being handled by the respondent’s employer to new counsel.

By communicating with the plaintiff about the subject of the representation when she knew the plaintiff to be represented by counsel and without the consent of plaintiff’s counsel, while the respondent was representing opposing parties in the case, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 4.2.

By representing the hospital and its employee while her representation of them was or could have been materially limited by her personal relationship with Sullivan, without the clients’ consent after consultation, or when informed consent was not possible under the circumstances, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7(b).

By revealing confidential information to the plaintiff, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.6(a) and 1.3.

By revealing confidential information to the disadvantage of her clients, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.8(b).

By conducting a secret relationship with the plaintiff in a lawsuit while representing the defendants and telling the plaintiff that their relationship should be not revealed to anyone, the respondent engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation, in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c); engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of 8.4(d); and engaged in conduct adversely reflecting on her fitness to practice law, in violation of 8.4(f).

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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