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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-1993-001

IN RE: JEREMIAH V. LUONGO

S.J.C. Order of Reinstatement entered by Justice Cordy on August 10, 20051

REPORT OF REINSTATMENT HEARING PANEL

INTRODUCTION

The petitioner, Jeremiah V. Luongo, has filed a petition seeking reinstatement as a member of the bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after an indefinite suspension which commenced on October 29, 1993. A hearing was conducted on the petition on February 14, 2005 and April 25, 2005. Petitioner was represented by Sara Noonan, Esq., while Nancy Kaufman, Esq., Assistant Bar Counsel, appeared for the Office of Bar Counsel. In addition to his own testimony, Petitioner presented the testimony of four witnesses, Joseph Silvia, Joseph Palumbo Jr., Bradley Lucas, and Elizabeth Duffy-Johnson. At the conclusion of the hearing, the petitioner urged the panel to recommend his reinstatement, while Bar Counsel opposed reinstatement.

A petitioner for reinstatement bears the “two-prong” burden of satisfying the requirements for reinstatement set forth in SJC Rule 4:01, § 18(5), namely, he must “demonstrat[e] that he … has the moral qualifications, competency and learning in law required for admission to practice law in this Commonwealth, and that his … resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar, the administration of justice, or to the public interest.” See Matter of Cappiello, 416 Mass. 340, 342, 9 Mass. Att’y Disc. R. 44, 46 (1993). “In any disciplinary case, the primary factor for the court’s consideration is the effect upon, and perception of, the public and the bar.” Matter of Daniels, 442 Mass. 1037, 1038 (2004) (rescript), citing Matter of Alter, 389 Mass. 153, 156, 3 Mass. Att’y Disc. R. 3, 6 (1983) and Matter of Keenan, 314 Mass. 544, 547 (1943).

Bar Counsel opposes the petition for reinstatement, arguing primarily that petitioner has failed to express appropriate remorse and to accept responsibility for his actions, and that he has failed to demonstrate a concrete plan for his return to the practice of law. Thus, Bar Counsel contends that petitioner’s re-admission to practice would be detrimental to the public interest because of the risk of further ethical lapses. As set forth below, we find that petitioner has met his burden, and that his re-admission would not be detrimental in any way. We therefore recommend that petitioner be reinstated to the practice of law.

BACKGROUND

Jeremiah V. Luongo was admitted to the bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on May 11, 1965. On October 29, 1993, he was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law for an indefinite period of time. Matter of Luongo, 416 Mass. 308 (1993). The indefinite suspension arose out of various misconduct that occurred between 1987 and 1990, involving four separate clients. The facts are set forth in detail in the Stipulation dated September 16, 1992 and in the opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court, and need not be repeated here.

The most serious of the charges of misconduct involved the misuse of client funds, resulting in actual deprivation to the client. Because the petitioner repaid the funds, the discipline imposed was a period of indefinite suspension rather than disbarment. In addition to the misuse of funds, there were various other charges including neglect of clients’ cases, failure to cooperate with Bar Counsel, and an improper business relationship with one James Ryan, a nonlawyer who had resigned from the Connecticut bar after being convicted of larceny of client funds. See 416 Mass. 309-310.

FINDINGS OF FACT

In his Petition for Reinstatement, the petitioner expressed a clear and frank understanding of the nature of his misconduct: He acknowledged his temporary conversion of client funds, for which he expressed result. He admitted that, upon learning that his law “partner,” James Ryan, was not truly a lawyer, he did not inform his clients of that fact. Reinstatement Questionnaire (“RQ”), p. 2.2 On cross-examination, he was quite forthright in stating that he had no excuses for his misconduct, and that he lost his license due to his own actions, for which he accepted responsibility. Transcript Vol. I, p. 61. Mr. Luongo further admitted at the reinstatement hearing that he didn’t keep proper records of his client funds, and that his records were “a mess.” (Transcript, Vol I, p.28, lines 19-23. He admitted that he did not inform his clients of James Ryan’s status upon learning that he had been disbarred. Transcript, Vol. I, p. 40. He also admitted to various other instances of neglect and misuse of client funds. Transcript, Vol. I, pp. 41-42.

The petitioner has met his burden of establishing that he possesses sufficient competence and learning in the law to be re-admitted to practice. He testified that he has taken a number of recent MCLE courses and has studied the rules relating to the holding of client funds, which he was able to summarize fairly. Transcript, Vol. I, pp. 50-52. He has taken and passed with Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, with a score of 101 (passing score=85). Based on our observation of petitioner during his testimony, and his methodical approach to his petition for reinstatement, we find him to be conscientious and knowledgeable in the law.

The petitioner presented the testimony of three witnesses who are attorneys. Joseph Silvia practices in Fall River, Massachusetts. He first met the petitioner in 1988, when he would observe petitioner trying cases in the local courts. Both based on his personal observations and his knowledge of Mr. Luongo’s reputation, Silvia testified that petitioner’s courtroom skills were well-respected. He further testified that he would be willing to mentor the petitioner in any way, and would be confident in referring clients to petitioner. Transcript, Vol. I, pp. 110-117. Joseph R. Palumbo, Jr., practices in Middletown, Rhode Island. He has known the petitioner for approximately ten years. They have met together at Palumbo’s office approximately every other week for a couple of hours. Based on their extensive conversations during these meetings, Palumbo testified that he believes the petitioner has excellent judgment and analytics skills, and a very high moral character. He, too, would be willing to mentor the petitioner and to refer clients to him. Transcript, Vol. I., pp. 132-140. Finally, the petitioner presented the testimony of Elizabeth Duffy-Johnson, a Member of the Massachusetts bar. She testified that she first met petitioner when they were neighbors more than 15 years ago, and that their relationship evolved into a close friendship during her husband’s prolonged serious illness. She applied to and attended law school during this period, and had numerous substantive legal discussions with petitioner during her studies. Duffy-Johnson also stated that she would be willing to mentor petitioner in any way possible. Based on our observations of these witnesses, we find that they are all well-acquainted with the petitioner, that they have a sincere affection and respect for him, both personally and professionally, and, in essence, that they were highly credible.

The evidence of petitioner’s moral character was extensive and impressive. Mr. Luongo’s wife of 47 years and his six children are very close, and all of them have supported each other throughout multiple financial, medical and legal difficulties. During the period of his suspension, Mr. Luongo has assisted his family and friends in many ways, caring for those who have been ill, driving those who cannot drive themselves, and babysitting young friends and relatives while their parents are unavailable. The testimony from Elizabeth Duffy-Johnson about the relationship between her family and the petitioner, particularly during her husband’s lengthy illness and subsequent death, was particularly compelling. Perhaps most impressive was petitioner’s work resume for the period of his suspension—not because of his steady employment—but because of his willingness to work at what most lawyers would probably consider to be menial occupations, including processing applications for fuel subsidies, stocking shelves, waiting on tables, working on a convenience store, and working as a motel desk clerk. He has been active in charitable work on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Society (spurred on by his personal experience with the illness when two of his children were diagnosed with the condition). Reinstatement Questionnaire, pp. 7, 10-11.

The principal objection raised by Bar Counsel to petitioner’s reinstatement that a concern that his resumption of the practice of law would be detrimental to the public, because of his lack of firm plans for employment, mentoring, and malpractice insurance. Bar Counsel also raised concerns about the effect of the stress of a return to full-time law practice on petitioner, and questioned in his ability to deal with that stress without resort to alcohol. We do not see petitioner’s situation as any different from that of many former sole practitioners or small-firm lawyers of his age (69). Mr. Luongo, with the assistance and contacts of his attorney, has recently begun a volunteer internship providing assistance to inmates through Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. He has expressed a desire if reinstated to do some legal work for his son, who owns a construction business, and to work on an independent contractor basis with some of his friends in the legal profession. Transcript, Vol. I, pp. 53-54. We acknowledge that the extent and duration of petitioner’s alcohol use is somewhat unclear; however, we are not persuaded that there is any serious ongoing problem that should prevent his reinstatement. We also note that petitioner submitted letters from two of the original complainants, Joseph Burgo and Steven Hill, both of whom supported petitioner’s reinstatement.

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

For the reasons discussed in this report, the Hearing Panel concludes that the petitioner, Jeremiah V. Luongo, has met his burden under S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 18(5), of “demonstrating that he … has the moral qualifications, competency and learning in law required for admission to practice law in this Commonwealth, and that his … resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar, the administration of justice, or to the public interest.” Consequently, the Hearing Panel recommends that Mr. Luongo be reinstated to the bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Respectfully submitted,
Elizabeth N. Mulvey, Chair
Francis P. Keough, Board Member
Charles Mokriski, Board Member

FOOTNOTES

1 The complete Order of the Court is available by contacting the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.

2 The petitioner’s Reinstatement Questionnaire consists of 14 unnumbered pages, so the page references in this report are to numbers added by the Hearing Panel to their copies of the questionnaire.



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