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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2007-045


S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Greaney on June 6, 2007, with an effective date of July 6, 2007.1


In January of 2006, the respondent gave a free estate planning seminar at a Senior Center. The seminar was attended by approximately 50 people, including the client, who was a widowed immigrant and part-time housekeeper. Afterwards, she approached the respondent to inquire about an estate plan because her will had not been revised since her husband’s death.

Two days later, the client and respondent met at his office. She disclosed her occupation to the respondent and her assets, which were exempt from federal estate taxes. She also told the respondent that she wanted an estate plan leaving her property to various relatives in Ireland.

In the course of the meeting, the respondent prepared a durable power of attorney for the client, which she executed at that time. She also signed a fee agreement that provided the respondent would set up an estate plan for her, and prepare an estate tax affidavit of no tax for the estate of her deceased husband. The agreement specified a flat fee of $7,500.00, which the client paid. The fee of $7,500 for the requested services was clearly excessive under Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(a).

The respondent thereafter sent draft documents to the client for her review. These documents were computer-generated forms that contained minimal inputting of information specific to the client.

After the client reviewed the respondent’s documents with a non-attorney friend, she realized that they were not what she had requested, wanted or needed. With the assistance of the non-attorney friend, the client asked the respondent to refund a portion of the fee she paid. In response, on March 9, 2006, the respondent wrote a letter to the client, referencing the request for a partial refund and offering to submit the matter to arbitration.

With the assistance of her non-attorney friend, the client wrote to the respondent on March 17, 2006, agreeing to submit the matter to fee arbitration. However, instead of proceeding to arbitration, the respondent by letter dated March 29, 2006, offered to refund one half of his fee ($3,750.00) to the client if she first agreed to release him from “any and all claims or obligations past, present, and future….” The respondent did not advise the client, in writing or otherwise, that she should obtain independent representation in connection with his offer.

On April 12, 2006, the client acquiesced to the respondent’s March 29th proposal by signing his letter and the release that accompanied it. On April 19, 2006, the respondent wrote a letter to the client, refunding $3,750.00, i.e., one-half of his fee.

The respondent’s conduct in charging and collecting a clearly excessive fee was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(a). The respondent’s conduct in having the client sign a release in exchange for a return of part of the fee she paid, while she was unrepresented by counsel and without first advising her in writing that independent representation was appropriate, was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.8(h).

In aggravation, the respondent received an admonition in 1998, AD 98-16, 14 Mass. Att’y Disc. Rep. 834 (1998), for commingling clients funds with lawyers’ funds in violation of DR 9-102(A), failure to maintain proper records of client’s property, in violation of DR 9-102(B)(3), and notice of a dishonored check, in violation of DR 9-103. He also received a term suspension in 2001, 17 Mass. Att’y Disc. Rep. 358 (2001), for violations of Mass R. Prof. C. 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on one's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects), 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), and 8.4(h) (conduct that reflects adversely on one's fitness to practice law). In further aggravation, the respondent took advantage of a client who was an unsophisticated widow.

In mitigation, after bar counsel began the investigation, the respondent repaid the entire fee with interest to the client.

The matter came before the Board on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for three months. The parties also stipulated that prior to and as a condition of reinstatement under S.J.C. Rule 4:01, Section 18(1)(a), the respondent shall take and pass the Massachusetts Professional Responsibility Examination. On May 29, 2007, the Board voted to recommend that the Court accept the parties’ stipulation and joint recommendation for discipline. On June 6, 2007, the Court ordered that the respondent be suspended for a period of three months.

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 submitted to the Supreme Judicial Court.

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