Mass.gov
   
Mass.Gov home Mass.gov  home get things done agencies Search Mass.Gov


Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-2010-091

IN RE: STUART E. WEITZ

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Cowin on September 29, 2010, with an effective date of October 29, 2010.1

SUMMARY2

The respondent received a suspension of one year and one day for his conduct in three matters. The respondent agreed that bar counsel could prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence.

In 2004, the respondent agreed to represent a client who was seeking to clear the title to condominium he owned so that the condominium could be sold. The property was encumbered by a second mortgage given as collateral for a loan received for a different property that he owned. The bank had foreclosed on that other property in 1997, leaving a deficiency of approximately $61,000. The bank had not commenced an action to collect the deficiency or sought to foreclose on the condominium.

In 2004, the respondent wrote to the bank demanding a discharge, but he did not receive a reply. For the next three years, the respondent did not take any action of substance to clear the title, but he made multiple intentional misrepresentations to the client that he was attempting to obtain a mortgage discharge and led the client to believe that he had filed a lawsuit against the bank to clear the title.

In August 2006, the client attempted to sell the condominium, but the sale fell through because the bank had not issued a discharge. In the summer of 2007, the respondent falsely assured the client that the title was clear, and the client again placed the property on the market and found a buyer. Shortly before the closing on August 31, 2007, however, the buyerís lawyer discovered that the mortgage had not been discharged.

The closing was postponed until September 3, 2007, to allow the respondent to obtain the discharge as well as a missing 6D certificate and smoke detector certificate. The respondent did not advise the client that there was a title problem and led the client to believe that the closing would take place shortly after he obtained the two certificates.

The client agreed to allow the buyer to move into the condominium before the closing in reliance on the respondentís assurances that the closing would go forward shortly. The respondent prepared a use and occupancy agreement for the buyer to sign, but the agreement failed to protect the clientís interests by not requiring the buyer to pay rent, condominium fees, tax bills, or other charges.

Between September and December 2007, the respondent continued to misrepresent to the client the reasons that the closing could not take place. In December, the client terminated the respondentís representation and cleared title in August of 2008 by paying the bank $35,000 to resolve the $61,000 deficiency.

By failing to act with reasonable diligence, promptness and competence to obtain the mortgage discharge and to clear the title to the property for his client, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a) and 1.3. The respondentís intentional misrepresentations to his client violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c). By failing to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, and to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a) and (b). By preparing a use and occupancy agreement for his client without the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1 and 1.2(a).

In the second matter, a client from Massachusetts suffered an injury while working on a construction project in Connecticut. Although the respondent was not licensed to practice law in Connecticut, in February 2005, the respondent agreed to represent the client in his Connecticut workerís compensation matter, including negotiating a lump sum settlement. The respondent and the client signed a fee agreement in June of 2005.

In December 2005, the respondent sent the insurer a demand for a lump sum settlement of $130,000, and the insurer countered with an offer of $14,000. After the client rejected that offer, in January 2006 the respondent secured additional partial permanent disability payments for the client through March 2006, but sought no additional benefits for the client. On about May 16, 2006, the insurer closed its file, and the respondent had no further contact with the insurer, nor did he perform any other work of substance in the case.

Starting in 2007, the respondent intentionally misrepresented to the client and his wife on several occasions that he was continuing to negotiate a lump sum payment with the insurer. In September of 2008, the respondent intentionally misrepresented to the client and his wife that the insurer had expressed a willingness to enter into a $50,000 lump sum agreement. At the time, the client and his wife were attempting to resolve an issue with their mortgage lender, and the respondent prepared a letter for the client to use in his negotiations with the lender. The respondent intentionally misrepresented in the letter that a $50,000 lump sum settlement was likely to be approved shortly.

In 2008 and 2009, the respondent intentionally misrepresented to the client and his wife that hearing dates had been scheduled before the Connecticut Workerís Compensation Commission to approve the lump sum agreement. The respondent scheduled appointments with the client to attend purported hearings, each of which he canceled on various pretexts. In about November of 2009, the client contacted the Commission and learned that no hearing dates had been scheduled.

In November 2009, the client filed a request for investigation with the office of bar counsel. In his answer to bar counsel concerning his conduct, the respondent intentionally misrepresented that he had engaged in efforts to negotiate a lump sum agreement with the insurer after 2006 and that the insurer had expressed a willingness to enter into the $50,000 agreement but later backed out of the deal.

The respondentís conduct in representing a client in a Connecticut workerís compensation matter when he was not admitted in Connecticut, by failing to explain to the client that he was not admitted in Connecticut, by failing to act with diligence and competence in handling the clientís case, and by making numerous misrepresentations to the client and others concerning the status of the case violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4, 1.16(a), 4.1(a), 5.5(a), and 8.4(c).

In the third matter, the respondentís law firm agreed in February 2005 to represent a client who had sustained injuries on December 1, 2004, when her car was struck by a dump truck driven by a public works employee of the City of Springfield. The clientís medical bills totaled approximately $5,000.

In June of 2005, the respondent took over the file from his partner and sent a presentment letter to the mayor of the City pursuant to G.L. c. 258, ß 4, demanding $10,000 in compensation for the client. The City did not respond to the letter. The respondent did not perform any further work of substance on the case.

In June of 2006, the client moved to a new address. On about June 15, 2007, the respondent mailed a letter to the client to her old address, notifying her that he was withdrawing from her case and suggesting that she seek new counsel. The clientís forwarding information had expired and she never received the letter. The letter was returned to the respondent by the post office and placed in the clientís file. The respondent made no further effort to locate the client to notify her that he was no longer representing her.

In about March of 2008, the client telephoned the firm, and learned for the first time that the respondent had withdrawn from her case. By that time, the statute of limitations for filing a claim had expired.

By failing to act with reasonable diligence, promptness and competence to investigate or handle his clientís personal injury claim, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a) and 1.3. By failing to give reasonable notice to his client of his intention to withdraw, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a) and 1.16(d).

The respondent was admitted to practice in 1994. In aggravation, the respondent received an admonition in 2000 for neglecting estate matters. Admonition No. 00-45, 16 Mass. Attíy Disc. R. 518 (2000). In mitigation, during the period in question, the respondent was suffering from anxiety and was under stress due to significant marital problems and caring for a child with significant medical issues. The respondent sought professional assistance to deal with these problems. In addition, the client in the first matter settled a malpractice claim against the respondent to his satisfaction, and the client in the second matter was able to pursue additional workerís compensation benefits with new counsel.

The case came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation that the respondent be suspended for one year and one day. On September 13, 2010, the board voted to recommend that the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County accept the parties' stipulation and joint recommendation for discipline. On September 29, 2010, the county court (Cowin, J.), ordered that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year and one day, effective thirty days from the date of the order.


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.



BBO/OBC Privacy Policy. Please direct all questions to webmaster@massbbo.org.