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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2002-1



IN RE: JOEL H. SCHWARTZ

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board January 29, 2002.

SUMMARY1


In the fall of 1996, the respondent agreed to represent two clients in personal injury claims as passengers in a car involved in a two-vehicle accident. Shortly thereafter, the respondent discovered that another attorney in his firm was representing the occupants of the second car in claims arising from the same accident. By then, the respondent was aware that one of his clients had been identified by witnesses as the driver of the first car and charged with motor vehicle violations as the identified operator. The respondent terminated his representation of the clients in the first car. Without obtaining the informed consent of all the clients after full disclosure, the respondent authorized the firm’s continued representation of the occupants of the second car, and their claims were settled in the spring of 1997.

In the summer of 1998, the respondent was contacted again by the former client who had been identified as the driver of the first car. After ascertaining that the motor vehicle charges against that client had been dropped, the respondent agreed to resume investigation of the accident and bring a claim for that client if warranted. The respondent did not obtain the consent of the other claimants before entering into this arrangement, which he terminated a few months later without any further action in the matter.

The respondent’s participation in or authorization of the concurrent and successive representation of the various claimants involved in the accident violated Canon One, DR 1-102(A)(6) [conduct adversely reflecting on fitness to practice law], Canon Five, DR 5-105(B)-(D) [employment, absent disclosure and consent, when lawyer’s judgment is likely to be adversely affected by associated lawyer’s representation of another client, or when lawyers associated in firm are likely to be involved in representation of clients with differing interests], and, in 1998, Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.9(a) and 1.10(a) [prohibiting lawyer whose firm has formerly represented a client from representing another person in the same or a substantially related matter, absent consent after consultation, in which that person's interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client].

In aggravation, the respondent had substantial experience in the practice of law and had been admonished in 1994 for failure to account accurately for personal injury protection funds and failure to make timely distribution of the funds. Admonition No. 94-83, 10 Mass. Att’y Disc. R. 479 (1994). In mitigation, the respondent’s misconduct was not the product of wrongful intent or selfish motive, resulted in no personal benefit to the respondent other than his ordinary share of legal fees firm, and caused no harm to any of the clients.

The matter came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and an agreed recommendation for discipline by public reprimand. On December 17, 2001, the Board voted to accept the parties’ recommendation and impose a public reprimand.

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



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