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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-1994-013

IN RE: VIRGINIA LEIGH JONES

S.J.C. Order of Reinstatement entered by Justice Marshall on February 11, 2000.1

HEARING PANEL REPORT

I. Introduction.

The Petitioner, Virginia Leigh Jones ("Jones"), seeks reinstatement after her indefinite suspension on May 20, 1997, 13 Mass. Att'y Disc. R. 297 (1997), which resulted from her guilty plea to an Information charging five counts of bank fraud. The order of indefinite suspension was retroactive to April 20, 1994, the date of her temporary suspension. See 10 Mass. Att'y Disc. R. 165 (1994).

Jones petitioned for reinstatement in April, 1999. She submitted a reinstatement questionnaire. Her petition for reinstatement is not opposed by Bar Counsel.

On October 18, 1999, a hearing was held before a panel consisting of John O. Mirick, Esq., Chair, Patricia Bobba Donovan, Esq., and David Rind, M.D. Jones was represented by Margaret D. Xifaras, Esq. Bar Counsel was represented by Nancy E. Kaufman, Esq.

The hearing panel received in evidence three exhibits, and heard testimony from Jones and from three attorneys who supported her petition for reinstatement. Bar Counsel did not call any witnesses.

II. Findings.

Jones was admitted to the Bar in 1981. After clerking for the Office of Administrative Law Judges in the Department of Labor in Washington, DC, and working at the Department of Labor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she began practice in 1983 as an associate at the firm of Myles & Murray. That firm evolved into the firm of Alexio, Myles, Murray & Rounds. Jones spent approximately half her time on real estate matters, including work involving the Bank of Taunton, and the balance of her time on other general practice, non-litigation matters. Jones worked for the firm until she was laid off in 1993.

Jones was directed by a partner of the firm to work on residential mortgage loans provided by the Bank of Taunton to borrowers who were referred to the firm by a real estate broker. Both the partner in the law firm and the real estate broker were on the Board of Directors at the Bank. The legal services provided by Jones in connection with the financings gradually evolved into the preparation of loan documents for the Bank of Taunton which did not disclose second mortgages obtained by borrowers to provide down payments. Jones understood that she was to do anything which the broker requested. She believed that she would lose her job if she failed to follow the broker's instructions. Other than keeping her job, she did not personally benefit from the fraud.

In 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Jones concerning the bank fraud. She voluntarily cooperated with the investigation, providing Grand Jury testimony and trial testimony. As a result of her cooperation, the government moved for a reduced sentence. Jones was sentenced to two months of home confinement, twelve months of probation, and was fined $3,000. Jones paid the fine, served her sentence and served her probation.

Since her suspension, Jones has held a series of non-legal jobs, including office work at an insurance agency, various part-time customer service and retail sales positions, and free lance writing. She is also involved in a small business. Her petition for reinstatement is supported by the principal of the insurance agency and by her business partner.

If she is reinstated, Jones intends to resume the practice of law, although initially doing work more in the nature of paralegal services, while continuing to pursue her writing.

Jones was very active in the Taunton area in Bar Association activities prior to her suspension, and served a term as President of the Taunton Bar Association. Her petition for reinstatement is supported by the Taunton Bar Association, and by some twenty attorneys in the Taunton area. The immediate past President of the Taunton Bar Association testified in support of the petition, as did two other Taunton attorneys.

Jones has maintained her competency in the law by reading Lawyers Weekly, and by obtaining continuing legal education materials from MCLE. At the time of the hearing, she was preparing to take the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam.

Jones recognizes that her past actions which led to her suspension were wrong. She believes that she was weak, and made the wrong choice between doing what she believed was required to retain her job, and doing what was right She cooperated fully with Federal authorities and with Bar Counsel.

III. Conclusions and Recommendation.

Pursuant to Supreme Judicial Court Rule 4:01, §18(6), Jones has the "burden of demonstrating that…she has the moral qualifications, competency and learning in the law required for admission to practice law in this Commonwealth, and that...her 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 also Board of Bar Overseers Rules, Section 3.64. Factors to be considered include the nature of the original offense, the petitioner's character, maturity and experience at the time of the original offense, the petitioner's occupation and conduct following her suspension, the time lapse since the suspension, and the petitioner's present competence in legal skills. Matter of Cappiello, 416 Mass 340, 343 (1993); Matter of Gordon, 385 Mass. 48, 52 (1982); Matter of Hiss, 368 Mass. 447,460 (1975).

The panel concludes that Jones has the moral qualifications for reinstatement. At the time that she participated in bank fraud, she was a young associate, fearful for her position, and believed that she had no choice. The panel notes that she accepts responsibility for her actions, and did not make an "only following orders" excuse for her actions. Other witnesses suggested that Jones may have been set up as a scapegoat by other, more culpable participants in the bank fraud.

The panel concludes that Jones has maintained her competency and learning in the law during her suspension.

The panel concludes that the resumption of the practice of law will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the Bar, the administration of justice, or the public interest. The petition for reinstatement is widely supported by attorneys from Taunton, both individually and through the Taunton Bar Association. It is apparent from those recommendations, and from the testimony of witnesses before the panel, that Jones is well regarded, that the conduct which led to the suspension is considered to be an aberration, and that Jones will be welcomed back into the practice of law by the Taunton legal community.

The panel recommends the petition for reinstatement be allowed, conditioned upon Jones passing the MPRE.

THE HEARING PANEL

John O. Mirick, Esq., Chair
Patricia Bobba Donovan, Esq.
David Rind, M.D.

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



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