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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2005-5



KERMIT S. GOODMAN

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board April 1, 2005

SUMMARY1


In July 1998, the respondent was retained by a client to represent him in a personal injury claim arising from a motor vehicle accident on November 11, 1997, involving a bus on which the client was a passenger. At the time that the respondent was retained, the client was nineteen years old.

On November 9, 2000, the respondent filed suit in Superior Court and made service upon the defendants, who were the bus company and bus driver. On February 14, 2001, the defendants propounded interrogatories to the plaintiff and a request for production of documents, which the respondent forwarded to the client. On or after February 28, 2001, the client sent the respondent draft answers to the interrogatories. The clientís responses were incomplete. However, the respondent failed over the next seven months to contact the client to attempt to obtain the missing information.

On August 22, 2001, the defendants served the respondent with an application for dismissal pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 33(a) based on the plaintiffís failure to provide answers to interrogatories. On September 19, 2001, the respondentís paralegal scheduled a meeting with the client to review the interrogatories. In late September or early October 2001, after meeting with the client, the paralegal sent a request to another attorney, who had represented the client in unrelated matters, for additional information that the respondent believed was needed to complete the interrogatories. The other attorney advised the respondent that he required a release from the client. The respondent did not follow up with the client either to obtain the release or to finalize the answers to interrogatories by openly refusing to answer the question.

On September 21, 2001, the defendants filed a re-application for final judgment based on the plaintiffís failure to answers the interrogatories. On September 25, 2001, the Superior Court entered judgment dismissing the lawsuit. The court sent notice of the dismissal to the respondent. The respondent did not notify the client that the case had been dismissed and took no action to vacate the dismissal. The client only learned that the case had been dismissed over a year later, in January 2003, after his mother contacted the Superior Court clerkís office.

Successor counsel filed a motion to vacate the dismissal on February 11, 2003. The motion was allowed by the Superior Court, then reversed on appeal by the Appeals Court on September 14, 2004. In the interim, the respondent reported the clientís claim to his malpractice carrier in March 2003.

The respondentís failure to act with reasonable diligence, promptness, thoroughness or preparation resulting in his neglect of a legal matter entrusted to him, and his failure to communicate or to communicate adequately with his client, was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4(a) and (b).

In aggravation, the respondent has two prior admonitions, one from 1996 (AD-96-25, 12 Mass. Att'y Disc. R. 639) for delay in disbursing client funds and the other in 1998 (AD-98-33, 14 Mass. Att'y Disc. R. 866) for neglect of an appeal of an administrative matter resulting in dismissal.

In mitigation, between 2000 and 2002, the respondent became separated and divorced from his wife, who until the separation had also been his law partner. The judgment of divorce entered in September 2002. The separation and divorce disrupted both the respondentís home life and his law practice during the relevant time period. At the same time, one of the respondentís children was also experiencing difficulties that required ongoing attention and distracted from the respondentís ability to focus on his practice.

This matter came before the Board on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation for discipline by public reprimand. The Board accepted the partiesí recommendation and imposed a public reprimand.

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



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