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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2005-093

IN RE: FATEMA DAHODWALA

S.J.C. Order Accepting Resignation as a Disciplinary Sanction entered by Justice Greaney on December 5, 2005, with an effective date of January 6, 2006.1

SUMMARY2

Disciplinary charges were brought against the respondent following a Superior Court judgment and findings that the respondent had submitted false evidence to the court. Bar Counsel’s motion that she be precluded from denying the charges on the basis of issue preclusion (“collateral estoppel”) was allowed. Thereafter, the respondent submitted an affidavit of resignation, and her resignation was accepted as a disciplinary sanction.

In 1992, the respondent was retained to present serious medical malpractice claims (failure to diagnose breast cancer) on behalf of a woman and members of her family. With her clients’ consent, she associated Attorney M, a more experienced attorney, to act as co-counsel. Both attorneys signed a contingent fee agreement with the clients. They orally agreed that they would divide the fees evenly.

By February, 1999, dissension had arisen between the respondent and Attorney M. The respondent asserted that Attorney M had misrepresented his experience, that he had not worked diligently, and that his work had been unsatisfactory; she asked him to withdraw. Attorney M did not withdraw: he continued to work with the respondent through at least September, 1999. On September 30, he and the respondent both signed a letter to a prospective expert witness.

Between March, 1999, and October, 1999, the respondent engaged in settlement negotiations. In August, without notifying Attorney M, she agreed to arbitration. On October 15, 1999, she agreed to settle the case for $500,000. When Attorney M learned of the settlement, he filed a motion to intervene to establish an attorney’s lien. The respondent asserted that Attorney M had not performed the services that he had agreed to perform and that he was not entitled to any portion of the fee.

At the hearing on Attorney M’s motion to establish the lien, the respondent offered in evidence a revised contingent fee agreement. This agreement, which was signed only by the respondent and the clients and did not include Attorney M, bore a hand-written date of February 23, 1999. There was no dispute that this date was in the respondent’s writing.

The respondent testified, in substance, that the clients had decided to discharge Attorney M in February, 1999, and that they had signed the revised fee agreement at that time. The judge did not believe her testimony. He found, on the basis of testimony from a document examiner and other evidence, that the fee agreement was actually signed on or about October 26, 1999, after the settlement offer had been accepted, and that the respondent placed the false date on it thereafter. He awarded 50% of the contingent fee to Attorney M. The respondent did not appeal this award.

In addition, the judge entered judgment against the respondent pursuant to G.L. c. 231, § 6F, and ordered her to pay Attorney M’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The respondent appealed from the judgment awarding fees and costs, and it was affirmed by a justice of the Appeals Court.

The respondent’s use of an altered document and her false testimony constituted making a false statement to a tribunal and offering evidence that she knew to be false in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.3(a)(1) and (4), and dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c).

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 on the record submitted to the Supreme Judicial Court.



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