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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-1996-061

IN RE: MAUREEN GEARY (DONOVAN)

S.J.C. Order of Reinstatement entered by Justice Greaney on October 6, 2000.1

HEARING PANEL REPORT

I. Introduction.

The Petitioner, Maureen Geary1, was suspended from the practice of law for a period of eighteen months by order entered by the Supreme Judicial Court on July 8, 1997 (Greaney, J.). The Order stated that the Petitioner may apply for readmission to practice after December 31, 1998. The Petitioner filed the petition for reinstatement (the "Petition") now before this Panel on March 6, 2000. She filed her reinstatement questionnaire on April 11, 2000. A hearing on the Petition was held on June 8, 2000 before a panel consisting of Mitchell H. Kaplan (Chair), Robert Costello and Naomi Gordon. The panel heard testimony from six witnesses, including the Petitioner, and received into evidence three exhibits. On July 7, 2000, the Petitioner filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. On July 11, 2000, Bar Counsel filed its proposed findings and conclusions. In its post-hearing pleading Bar Counsel recommended that the petition be denied. In consideration of the testimony, exhibits, arguments of counsel and post-hearing submissions, the Panel recommends that the Petition be allowed.

II. Facts.

A. Disciplinary Background.

The circumstances giving rise to the Petitioner's suspension are set out in Matter of Donovan, 13 Mass. Att'y. Disc. R. 142 (1997). Briefly stated, Petitioner was admitted to the bar on December 27, 1995. On February 9, 1996, the United States Attorney filed an information against Petitioner charging her with student loan fraud. She pleaded guilty to those charges in Federal Court on July 31, 1996, and was convicted on October 8, 1996. The Court sentenced her to a period of home confinement, three years probation and a fine. Although the information was not filed until after Petitioner's admission to the Bar, she knew that she was under investigation and later a subject of grand jury proceedings before she filed her application for admission.

She was temporarily suspended from the Bar on December 31, 1997 and, as noted above, given a term suspension on July 8, 1997. The Board of Bar Overseers' and Supreme Judicial Court's consideration of the novel issues raised by Petitioner's pre-admission wrongdoing and criminal investigation, and the failure to disclose those matters on her Bar application, are fully examined in their prior opinions and need not be revisited in determining whether Petitioner has demonstrated that she has met her burden of proving the elements necessary for reinstatement.

B. Background Facts.

During the hearing, Petitioner offered testimony concerning her marriage to Charles Donovan, a man very much older than her, who was apparently abusive and involved in various criminal enterprises. Mr. Donovan agreed to plead guilty to an information charging him with loan sharking and other federal offenses at or about the time that Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to student loan fraud. Mr. Donovan was imprisoned following his conviction. Petitioner filed for divorce soon after Donovan was imprisoned. Her divorce became final shortly after he was released. Petitioner remarried in 1999 and was expecting a child at the time of the Hearing.

In March 1997, Petitioner began work as a project manager for the Massachusetts Office of Business Development ("MOBD"). In late 1998, her supervisor at MOBD moved to the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency ("MDFA") and offered Petitioner the position of Development Programs Manager at that agency, which she accepted. In July 1999, she advanced to the position of Director of Community Development — her job at the time of the Hearing. Petitioner presented testimony from her supervisor and co-workers at MDFA. All of these witnesses described Petitioner as highly motivated, competent at her work and exhibiting utmost integrity. The live testimony was supplemented by letters of commendation from organizations with which she had worked during her employment with MOBD and MDFA. Notably, Petitioner was forthcoming during her job interviews for these positions about her federal conviction and status with the Bar. No contradictory evidence on these points was offered.

Although she has never practiced law, Petitioner uses her legal training in connection with her work at MDFA in connection with matters involving municipal zoning, Chapter 2IE, Brownfield site assessments and understanding written agreements. She has taken MCLE courses in environmental law and basic skills. She has passed the MPRE. Petitioner has also obtained a Masters Degree from Suffolk University in Business Administration since her suspension.

For the past three years, Petitioner has also worked on a volunteer basis raising funds for the Easter Seals Society.

Petitioner completed her period of federal probation on October 8, 1999, before she filed this Petition for Reinstatement.

III. Conclusions.

On a petition for reinstatement, the petitioner has the burden of proving that she has the moral qualifications required for admission to practice law; that she has the competency and learning in law required for admission; and that her resumption of practice will not be detrimental to the integrity or standing of the bar, the administration of justice or the public interest. S.J.C. Rule 4:01, §18(5); Matter of Cappiello, 416 Mass. 340, 9 Mass Att'y. Disc. R. 47 (1993); Matter of Waitz, 416 Mass. 298, 9 Mass. Att'y. Disc. R. 336 (1993). In evaluating a petition for reinstatement, the true test must always be the public welfare. Matter of Waitz, supra.

Although Bar Counsel has opposed the petition for reinstatement, he concedes that Petitioner has demonstrated both the competency and learning in law required for readmission and that her resumption of practice will not be detrimental to the integrity or standing of the Bar. The Panel concurs.

While Petitioner has never practiced law, she passed the bar exam in 1995, has had some opportunities to use her legal training in her employment, has taken continuing legal education courses, and appears to have the skill and learning expected of a member of the bar first entering the profession.

As to the effect of reinstatement on the integrity of the bar, while Petitioner's crime was serious, she has completed her sentence and worked diligently as a productive member of society since her suspension. The testimony of her supervisor and colleagues demonstrates that she has conducted her work with professionalism and integrity. She has also volunteered her time for charitable activity.

Rather, Bar Counsel bases his objection to Petitioner's reinstatement on a contention that Petitioner has failed to demonstrate sufficient rehabilitation and therefore has not established that she has the necessary moral qualifications for reinstatement. The Panel disagrees with this assessment.

The thrust of Bar Counsel's argument is that (a) Petitioner's alleged "reliance on her bad marriage as an excuse for all her misconduct is disturbing," and (b) at the Hearing she wrongfully failed to acknowledge that she had falsely answered a question during an interview with Bar Counsel which occurred either on December 31, 1996 or early in 1997. As to the former point, Petitioner clearly accepted responsibility at the Hearing for the fraudulent representations that she made to obtain her student loan. She forthrightly acknowledged her transgressions to supervisors and co-workers when she applied for employment. The Panel is unable to determine, based on the limited evidence before it, to what extent Petitioner's conduct was caused by the obvious difficulties of her first marriage, but such a finding is neither required, nor appropriate, for this Panel. Rather, the Panel finds that, on the evidence presented, Petitioner has acknowledged the wrongfulness of her prior actions and conducted herself in a manner demonstrating integrity and responsibility since her conviction.

Further, the Panel does not find that Petitioner's testimony at the hearing on June 8, 2000, to the effect that she believed her answers to questions posed by Bar Counsel during an interview conducted three years earlier were truthful, suggests a lack of character or rehabilitation. The apparent issue involves whether the Petitioner truthfully answered questions during that interview regarding whether she had discussions with her criminal attorney, prior to filing her application to sit for the bar exam in the Summer of 1995, on whether to disclose the criminal investigation on her application. The Panel believes that her Hearing testimony was based on her present best memory of that interview. But more to the point, during the Hearing, Petitioner testified unequivocally that she had discussed whether to disclose the pending federal investigation with her then criminal counsel, who also sponsored her application for admission to the Bar, in 1995. The Panel does not find Petitioner's Hearing testimony concerning what she remembered telling Bar Counsel three years earlier informative on the issue of moral qualifications. The Petitioner's testimony and those of her supervisors and co-workers adequately support a finding that Petitioner has met her burden of establishing the requisite moral qualifications for readmission to the Bar.

IV. Recommendation.

For the foregoing reasons the Panel recommends that the Petitioner be reinstated to the Bar of the Commonwealth.

Respectfully submitted,

Mitchell H. Kaplan, Chair
Naomi Gordon
Robert Costello

FOOTNOTES:

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

2At the time of her suspension, the Petitioner was known as Maureen Donovan. She has since remarried and adopted the name Maureen Geary.



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