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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2008-106

IN RE: BARBARA F. GREENLEE

S.J.C. Amended Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Spina on January 9, 2009.1

SUMMARY2

The respondent was admitted to practice in Massachusetts on January 7, 1981. She was suspended for misconduct in connection with her representation of clients in a civil litigation matter, as described below.

On October 5, 2004, a mortgage lender filed an interpleader case in Superior Court to determine the rights to $40,347.62 in excess proceeds from a foreclosure auction sale of certain real property in Belchertown, Massachusetts. A husband and wife who were the former owners and mortgagors of the real property were named as co-defendants in the interpleader case. Other creditors and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) were also named as co-defendants.

On August 4, 2005, an order of default under Standing Order 1-88 entered against the former owners for failing to respond to the interpleader complaint. On about November 15, 2005, the former owners retained the respondent to represent them in the interpleader case. The clients agreed to pay the respondent a fee of $100.00 per hour, and wired the respondent an initial retainer of $1,500.00.

On December 12, 2005, the respondent filed her appearance in the interpleader case, and on December 23, 2005, the respondent filed a motion to remove the order of default. The respondent failed to serve her motion on the other parties in compliance with Superior Court Rule 9A. On December 30, 2005, the respondentís motion to remove default was denied for failure to comply with Rule 9A, and the respondent received notice of the denial of the motion in due course. The respondent did not inform the clients that the motion had been denied, and she did not take action to re-file her motion to remove default in accordance with Rule 9A.

DOR had a claim for $4,393.37 against the excess proceeds. On January 6, 2006, DOR filed a motion for summary judgment, which the respondent received in due course. The respondent did not take any action to oppose DORís motion, and on January 20, 2006, DORís motion was allowed. The respondent received the order and judgment in due course, but did not inform her clients.

On March 30, 2006, the respondent filed another motion to remove the default order entered against her clients. The respondent again failed to serve her motion on the other parties in compliance with Rule 9A. On May 2, 2006, the court ordered that no action be taken on the respondentís motion because the motion was not in compliance with Rule 9A. The respondent received notice of the courtís order in due course, but did not inform her clients or take any further action to remove the default order.

Between November 2005 and September 2006, the respondent failed to respond to numerous telephone calls and correspondence from her clients, who were requesting information about the status of the interpleader case. During this period, the respondent experienced serious health and personal problems that materially impaired her ability to represent the clients. The respondent did not inform the clients of her problems, did not provide them with an opportunity to seek new counsel to represent them, and did not seek to withdraw from their representation.

On July 17, 2006, the clients filed a request for investigation with the Office of Bar Counsel. In about September of 2006, the clients discharged the respondent and retained successor counsel to represent them in the interpleader case. By a letter dated September 23, 2006 sent to bar counsel and the clients, the respondent stated that she would seek the courtís permission to withdraw her appearance in the interpleader case and refund the clientsí retainer in its entirety within two weeks. The respondent did not file a motion to withdraw her appearance, and did not refund the clientsí retainer.

On November 9, 2006, the clients, through new counsel, filed a motion to remove the default order together with a motion for summary judgment. On January 8, 2007, the Court allowed the clientsí motions, and on about February 16, 2007, the clients were paid $14,334.34 in funds that were remaining from the foreclosure sale.

The respondent intentionally failed without good cause to respond to numerous letters from bar counsel in connection with bar counselís investigation. On February 27, 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an order administratively suspending the respondent from the practice of law in accordance with S.J.C. Rule 4:01, ß 3(2), for failure to cooperate with bar counselís investigation. On May 24, 2007, the Court reinstated the respondent as a member of the bar of the Commonwealth, after she complied with the order and filed a written response to the grievance.

By failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing her clients and to expedite the litigation, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, and 3.2. By failing to keep her clients reasonably informed about the status of the matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, and by failing to provide her clients with information reasonably necessary to permit the clients to make informed decisions regarding the representation, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a) and (b). By failing to withdraw from the representation when her physical and mental condition materially impaired her ability to represent the clients, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(a)(2). By failing to seek the courtís permission to withdraw her appearance in the matter after being discharged by the clients, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(a)(3). By failing to refund the unearned retainer, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(a) and 1.16(d). By intentionally failing without good cause to reply to letters from bar counsel in connection with bar counselís investigation, the respondent violated S.J.C. Rule 4:01, ß 3(1)(b), and Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(c), 8.1(b) and 8.4(g).

On June 27, 2008, bar counsel filed a petition for discipline against the respondent. The respondent failed to file an answer to the petition or otherwise to cooperate in the disciplinary process and, pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 4:01, ß 8(3), the allegations were therefore deemed admitted. The respondentís failure to participate in the disciplinary proceedings was considered as a matter in aggravation. In further aggravation, the respondent received an admonition in 2001 for her conduct in three separate matters, including her failure to timely communicate with her clients and respond to their requests for an accounting of her fee and the return of their files. Admonition No. 01-58, 17 Mass. Attíy Disc. R. 769 (2001). On October 20, 2008, the Board of Bar Overseers voted to recommend to the court that the respondent be suspended for a period of one year and one day. On November 5, 2008, the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County (Spina, J.) issued an order directing the respondent to inform the Court within thirty days why an order of term suspension should not be entered. The respondent did not reply. After a hearing held on January 7, 2008, attended by assistant bar counsel but not the respondent, on January 9, 2009, the Court suspended the respondent for a period of one year and one day.


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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