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IN RE: G. RUSSELL SULLIVAN, JR.

NO. BD-99-020

SUMMARY

The respondent was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth in December 1987. In April 1994, the respondent closed his law office, left the practice of law, and assumed full-time, non-legal employment. The respondent failed to notify the registration division of the Board of Bar Overseers of his change of office address as required by S.J.C. Rule 4:02(1).

At the time he closed his law office, the respondent had at least three clients whose cases were active. The respondent failed to inform these clients that he had withdrawn from the practice of law and was no longer handling their cases. On July 31, 1995, the respondent was administratively suspended from the practice of law for failure to pay his annual registration fee. On August 30, 1995, the respondent was required to comply with the notice requirements of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 17(1), pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 4:03(3). By failing to notify his clients that he had been administratively suspended, the respondent violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(5) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct prejudicial to administration of justice) and (6) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct adversely reflecting on fitness to practice law).

One of the three clients who should have been notified of the respondent’s administrative suspension had retained the respondent in March 1990, to bring an action against the client's former employer for unpaid commissions. The client gave the respondent $200 to pay for a filing fee and service. Although the respondent prepared and filed a complaint on the client’s behalf, he failed to serve the complaint. As a result, the complaint was dismissed. The respondent had actual notice that the complaint had been dismissed, but he failed to refile the complaint or to serve the defendant. The respondent also deliberately concealed from the client that the court had dismissed the complaint. The client wrote to and called the respondent in 1994 and 1995 requesting information about his case and a copy of his file, but the respondent failed to reply to the client’s requests.

By failing to serve the client’s complaint, by failing to protect the client’s rights, and by failing to respond to the client’s efforts to contact him, the respondent violated Canon Six, Disciplinary Rule 6-101(A)(3) (lawyer shall not neglect legal matter), and Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A)(1), (2), and (3) (lawyer shall not fail to seek client’s lawful objectives, fail to carry out contract of employment, or prejudice client). By concealing from the client that his case had been dismissed for failure to make service, the respondent violated Canon One, Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(4) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving deceit) and (6), and Canon Six, Disciplinary Rule 6-102(A) (lawyer shall not attempt to limit his liability to client for malpractice). By his failure to notify the client that he left his law practice, his failure to provide the client with a copy of his file within a reasonable time after the client had requested it, and his failure to account for or return the unused portion of the funds the client had advanced to him for anticipated costs, the respondent violated Canon Two, Disciplinary Rule 2-110(A)(2)-(4) (lawyer shall not withdraw from employment until he has taken reasonable steps to avoid prejudice to client; upon withdrawal, lawyer shall return any part of fee paid in advance that has not been earned; lawyer shall make file available to client upon reasonable request), and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(B)(3) and (4) (lawyer shall maintain records of client’s property and promptly deliver client’s property to client as requested).

The second cclient had retained the respondent and paid him $500 in March 1991 to bring an action against the client’s former employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress and constructive discharge. The respondent never filed a complaint against the employer and failed to inform the client that the complaint had not been filed. The respondent also failed to respond to the client’s efforts to contact him, failed to inform the client about the status of her case, and failed to return the client’s file or the unearned portion of her retainer after he left his practice.

By his failure to file the client’s complaint and by his failure to communicate with the client about her case, the respondent violated Canon Six, Disciplinary Rule 6-101(A)(3), and Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A)(1), (2), and (3). By his failure to notify the client that he was leaving the practice of law and no longer handling her case, his failure to return promptly to the client her papers and other property, his failure to account for the unused portion of the retainer the client had paid, and his failure to return his client’s file, the respondent violated Canon Two, Disciplinary Rule 2-110(A)(2)-(4). and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(B)(3) and (4).

In the third case, the client had paid the respondent a $1,000 retainer in April 1993, to pursue a claim against a developer for faulty construction and to secure the release from escrow of $1,000 withheld from the purchase price of the client’s property. The respondent obtained the release of the escrowed funds and secured an expert to inspect the property. The expert was unable to determine the cause of the construction problem, and the respondent reported this information to the client. Between August 1993 and December 1994, the respondent failed to respond to the client’s calls and letters. After April 1994, the respondent failed to inform the client that he was no longer working on the client’s case and that he had withdrawn as the client’s attorney. In December 1994, the client wrote to the respondent, discharging him and demanding the return of the client’s file and the unused portion of the retainer. The respondent failed to turn over the client’s file and failed to account for or return to the client the unused portion of the retainer.

By his failure to respond to the client’s calls and letters and by his failure to inform the client about the status of the case, the respondent violated Canon Six, Disciplinary Rule 6-101(A)(3), and Canon Seven, Disciplinary Rule 7-101(A)(1), (2), and (3). By failing to notify the client that he had withdrawn from the client’s case; by failing to return the client’s papers and the unused portion of the fees the client had paid promptly after he withdrew from the client’s case; and by failing to turn over the client’s file, to account for the disposition of the retainer, and to return the unused portion of the retainer, the respondent violated Canon Two, Disciplinary Rule 2-110(A)(2)-(4), and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(B)(3) and (4).

In a fourth matter, the respondent failed promptly to return a client’s file after the client demanded it in violation of Canon Two, Disciplinary Rule 2-110(A)(4), and Canon Nine, Disciplinary Rule 9-102(B)(4).

A hearing committee of the Board of Bar Overseers recommended that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months with conditions placed on the respondent’s resumption of practice. The Board of Bar Overseers accepted the committee’s findings of fact but voted unanimously to recommend that the respondent be suspended for six months and one day so that the respondent would be required to apply for reinstatement after the term of his suspension expires.

On April 16, 1999, a Single Justice, (Ireland, J.), entered an Order suspending the respondent from the practice of law for six months and one day.

 



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