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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

PUBLIC REPRIMAND NO. 2000-5



IN RE: MICHAEL L. HOWARD

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board January 10, 2000.

SUMMARY1


The respondent was retained in September 1992 to represent a client in a claim arising out of an August 17, 1992 motor vehicle accident. The client sustained injuries when his car was hit in the rear while he was stopped at an intersection, with his turn signal on, waiting to make a left turn. The other driver's liability was reasonably clear and the only issue was damages.

The respondent had some initial communications with the other driver's insurer, but thereafter took no further action for almost three years. Following their initial meeting, the client telephoned the respondent on numerous occasions in an attempt to determine the status of his claim. These attempts were unsuccessful. On June 29, 1995, after contacting Bar Counsel, the client wrote a letter to the respondent requesting an update and advising that the statute of limitations would soon be expiring. The respondent then filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on August 14, 1995.

In June, 1998, after continued unsuccessful attempts to obtain an update on the status of his lawsuit from the respondent, the client visited the Superior Court. At that time, he became aware that the lawsuit had been dismissed in December 1995 for failure to make service of process. The client then filed a complaint with Bar Counsel.

In mitigation, the respondent subsequently refinanced the mortgage on his home and settled the client's malpractice claim with successor counsel. In aggravation, the respondent had received a prior admonition for neglecting a legal matter and failure to refund unearned fees. The admonition was received in August 1995, the same month in which the respondent filed the client's lawsuit, and was conditioned on the respondent's attendance at a CLE course on law office management. Despite attending the required course in October 1995, the respondent still neglected to serve process in the client's case by the November 1995 deadline, just one month later. The respondent had no explanation for his failure to serve the civil complaint, particularly in light of the fact that he had just received discipline for similar misconduct. He could only say that the case "fell through the cracks."

The respondent's failure to respond to the client's requests for updates on the status of his lawsuit, failure to serve process in a timely manner, failure to notify the client of the dismissal, and failure to seek relief from the dismissal, constitute neglect of a legal matter in violation of Canon Six, DR 6-101(A)(3) and failure to represent his client zealously in violation of Canon Seven, DR 7-101(A)(1), (2), and (3).

The respondent received a public reprimand for the above violations.

1 Compiled by the Board of Bar Overseers based on the record of proceedings before the Board.



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