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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2007-066

IN RE: JAMES RUSSELL HODGDON

S.J.C. Judgment of Disbarment entered by Justice Cordy on September 16, 2008.1

SUMMARY2

In October of 2004, the respondent was retained by a client for representation in a personal injury matter. Pursuant to a contingency fee agreement, the respondent would receive one-third of the gross amount collected on behalf of the client. In April of 2007, the respondent negotiated a settlement of the clientís claim with the insurer for $9,000.00, of which $800 was paid to a medical lienholder. The client agreed to the settlement and signed a release, dated April 30, 2007, which the respondent forwarded to the insurer.

In May of 2007, the respondent received a settlement check from the insurer for $8,200.00, which was made out to him as attorney for the client. The respondent did not inform the client of his receipt of the check. Shortly thereafter, the respondent deposited the $8,200.00 check into his IOLTA account.

From May 23, 2007 through at least August of 2007, the respondent intentionally misused the clientís settlement proceeds to pay various personal and business expenses. By May 31, 2007, the month-end account balance was $2,217.85, without any disbursements having been made to or for the benefit of the client. On August 31, 2007, the month-end account balance was $24.79, without any disbursements having been made to or for the benefit of the client.

Between about May of 2007 and about December of 2007, the client made repeated calls to the respondent, but the respondent did not return his calls. The client then personally went to the respondentís law office, and found that it had been closed and the telephone disconnected.

On January 30, 2008, the client contacted the insurance company directly and was told by the company that the $8,200.00 settlement check had been issued to the respondent in May of 2007 and had been cashed or deposited by the respondent on May 23, 2007. To date, the respondent has not paid the client his share of the settlement. To date, the client remains deprived of funds that he is entitled to receive.

The respondentís failure to inform the client of his receipt of his settlement proceeds, his commingling of client funds with personal funds and his intentional misuse of the clientís funds violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15(b), 1.15(c), 8.4(c) and 8.4(h).

On February 1, 2008, bar counsel received a request from the client for investigation of the conduct of the respondent.

On March 7, 2008, bar counsel mailed a copy of this communication to the respondent at his last known address by first class mail with a cover letter informing the respondent that the respondentís reply was due in 20 days. Bar counsel sent multiple letters to the respondent at different addresses, in pertinent part advising the respondent that failure to reply would result in issuance of a subpoena to appear before bar counsel and might also result in administrative suspension.

The respondent received and failed without good cause to reply to bar counselís letters and never responded to bar counselís investigation, in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(d), 8.4(g), 8.4(h) and S.J.C. Rule 4:01 ß3.

A petition for discipline was served on the respondent on May 6, 2008. The respondent did not file a timely answer to the petition, and the Board of Bar Overseers thereafter notified the respondent that the allegations in the petition had been deemed admitted.

On August 11, 2008, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to disbar the respondent. On September 16, 2008, after a hearing, the single justice issued an order disbarring the respondent effective immediately.


FOOTNOTES:

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 filed with the Supreme Judicial Court.



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