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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2007-098

IN RE: JOHN J. KING
(148 Lakeview Avenue; Lowell, MA 01850)

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Spina on November 6, 2007, with an effective date of December 6, 2007.1
(S.J.C. Judgment of Reinstatement entered by Justice Spina on February 19, 2008.)

SUMMARY2

The respondent, John J. King, Esq., is an attorney duly admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth on June 18, 1998. He was suspended for two months for his conduct in two separate matters and for his pattern of advancing funds to clients.

In the first matter, the respondent was retained in or around March 2002 to represent a client on a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on June 14, 2001. The client became dissatisfied with the respondent’s representation on or about May 19, 2003, when the respondent advised her that her claim was not ready to be filed in court.

The client retained successor counsel on May 20, 2003. That same day, successor counsel sent a letter to the respondent signed by the client, advising that the respondent had been discharged and requesting that the respondent send him the client’s file. The respondent received this letter but did not reply to the letter or send the file. A second letter was sent to the respondent on or about June 3, 2003, by certified and first class mail requesting the client’s s file. Successor counsel’s secretary also telephoned the respondent’s office twice between June 2 and June 10, 2003, and left messages for the respondent requesting the file. The respondent did not reply to the letter or the telephone calls and did not send the file. Instead, he filed suit on behalf of the client in superior court, without informing the client and without obtaining her consent.

On June 12, 2003, Successor counsel sent the respondent a third letter requesting that the client’s file be delivered to him by June 17, 2003. The letter was personally served upon the respondent by a county deputy sheriff on June 13, 2003.

The respondent replied to the letter or about June 17, 2003. He falsely stated that he had not received any letters that counsel had sent to him prior to June 12, 2003. The respondent also informed counsel that the client’s claim was in litigation and falsely stated that litigation was commenced prior to the respondent’s receipt of the notice of discharge. The respondent also advised that he would not transfer the client’s file to successor counsel until counsel filed a notice of appearance in the pending litigation.

The client’s new attorney refused to file an appearance in the unauthorized suit and requested that the respondent transfer the client’s file to him and prepare a stipulation of dismissal, without prejudice. The respondent again falsely claimed that he had not received the notice of discharge before filing the claim and he refused to provide the client’s file until successor counsel filed an appearance in the pending suit.

The respondent did not send the client’s file to successor counsel until on or about July 28, 2003, after a complaint was filed against him at the Office of Bar Counsel. The respondent did not file a notice of withdrawal as the client’s attorney until on or about August 5, 2003.

By failing to withdraw after being discharged by his client, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16 (a) (3). By filing suit on behalf of the client without the client’s knowledge or consent after he had been discharged, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2 (a) and 1.16 (d). By failing to promptly provide the client’s file to the client or to the client’s successor counsel after being requested to do so by the client, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16 (d) and (e), and by knowingly misrepresenting to his client’s new attorney that he had not received notice that he had been discharged by the client before he filed suit on the client’s behalf, and therefore had authority to assert an attorney’s lien for his services, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4 (c) and (h).

In the second matter, the respondent was retained or about December 15, 2003, to represent a client on a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on or about December 14, 2003. The client executed a contingent fee agreement and an authorization for the respondent to endorse personal injury protection checks and settlement checks on her behalf and to deposit the checks into his IOLTA account.

On or about September 10, 2004, while the respondent was negotiating a settlement of the client’s claim, the client authorized the respondent to settle her claim for $4,500.00 and she signed a release for $4,500.00 and gave it to the respondent to hold pending finalization of a settlement for that amount.

On or about September 28, 2004, the client was in another motor vehicle accident. She consulted with another attorney regarding the matter and decided to retain him to represent her on a new personal injury claim. She also decided to discharge the respondent as her attorney on her December 2003 personal injury claim and to retain the other attorney on that matter as well. After retaining new counsel, the client telephoned the respondent and advised him that he was discharged as her attorney.

On or about September 29, 2004, after being discharged by the client and without the client’s knowledge or consent, the respondent faxed the release that the client had signed on September 10, 2004, to the insurer with a letter confirming the client’s acceptance of the settlement of her claim for $4,500.00 and requesting immediate payment of the settlement funds. The following day, the insurer sent a check payable to the client and the respondent. On or about October 4, 2004, without notifying the client, the respondent received the check, endorsed the back of the check in both his name and the client’s name, and deposited it into his IOLTA account. Ten days later, the respondent sent the client a check in the amount of $2,000.00. He retained the balance of the settlement proceeds in his IOLTA account for his $1,500.00 legal fee and for payment of the complainant’s medical providers.

Upon learning of the settlement, the client expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of the settlement and objected to the respondent’s retention of $1,000.00 from the settlement proceeds for payment of medical providers. She requested that he forward the $1,000.00 to her. The respondent sent $1,000.00 to the client on or about December 7, 2004.

By failing to withdraw after being discharged by his client, settling the client’s claim after he had been discharged, without the client’s knowledge and consent, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2 (a) and 1.16 (a)(3) and (d).

In addition to his misconduct described above, on numerous occasions in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, the respondent advanced funds to clients for living expenses prior to the receipt of their settlement funds. The respondent reimbursed himself for these advances from the clients’ eventual settlements. The advances violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.8(e).

This matter came before the Board on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation that the respondent be suspended for two months. On September 10, 2007, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to accept the parties’ stipulation and recommendation for discipline, and on November 6, 2007, the Court so ordered.


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 before the Supreme Judicial Court.



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