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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2002-26


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


In January 1998, a client engaged the respondent to represent her regarding her objection to her mother's will and codicil filed in the Hampden County Probate and Family Court by her stepfatherís counsel. The clientís stepfather was named executor and the sole beneficiary of the proffered will. The basis for the clientís objection was that the will was fraudulent and that the signatures on the will and codicil were apparently different.

On advice of counsel, the client retained an handwriting expert to examine the her motherís will and codicil. The handwriting expert examined the will and codicil and issued her report to the respondent. The expert opined, based on handwriting comparisons, that the will dated in March 1985 was not signed by the decedent, but that the codicil, which was dated in December 1992, was signed by the decedent. This opinion was contingent upon examination and comparison of the original documents.

In March 1998, the respondent received a motion from opposing counsel alleging that the respondent had violated Mass. R. Civ. P. 11 in prosecuting a groundless objection to the will. The respondent reviewed the motion and pretrial memorandum and decided that there was ample evidence that the will and codicil were authentic. He did not, however, discuss his conclusions with the client.

Both the respondent and the client misunderstood that the hearing was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on March 30, 1998. The respondent planned to meet the client at the Hampden County Probate Court at 2:00 p.m. In fact, the hearing was scheduled for 9:00 a.m.

At 9:30 a.m., a court clerk telephoned the respondentís office, and he then went to court that morning for the hearing. At the hearing, the respondent, without his clientís knowledge or consent, withdrew her objection to the will and assented to the allowance of the will. The respondent did not request a continuance from the court in order that his client could be present. The respondent did not discuss the decision to dismiss the will with his client. The respondent also filed a disappearance of counsel without taking steps to protect the clientís interests and without giving her adequate notice to employ new counsel.

Subsequent to the hearing, the respondent informed the client by telephone of his actions in withdrawing her objection to the will and filing his disappearance. The client filed a pro se motion for hearing and to reopen the case. The motion to reopen was opposed by the executor, and it was denied by the court.

The respondentís dismissal of the clientís case, without authorization of the client, violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.2(a), 1.3, 1.4(b). The respondentís withdrawal from the clientís case without taking steps to protect the clientís interests, such as giving reasonable notice and time to employ new counsel, violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.16(d).

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

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