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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2005-22



PHILIP X. MURRAY

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board October 31, 2005.

SUMMARY1


In late 1998, the respondent agreed to represent a husband and wife in a dispute the clients were having with neighbors who had removed some trees from the clients’ property and who had obtained a zoning variance to build a screened porch. The husband was a business associate of another attorney with whom the respondent practiced. The respondent filed two superior court actions against the neighbors—an appeal under G.L. c. 40A, § 17, from the grant of the variance, and an action for damages for the loss of the trees.

Although the respondent served notice of the zoning appeal as required by G.L. c. 40A, § 17, he did not file with the court an affidavit that such notice had been given, as is also required by § 17. In May of 1999, the court dismissed the zoning appeal without prejudice. In June of 1999, the court denied without prejudice the respondent’s motion to remove the dismissal.

In March of 1999, the neighbors filed and served an answer, a document request and interrogatories in the damage action. The respondent served a response to the document request and prepared answers to the interrogatories; he did not, however, produce any documents or serve any answers to the interrogatories.

By the end of 1998, the respondent terminated his practice with the other attorney and moved to another office in the same building. During the summer of 1999, he moved his practice to another address. He did not, however, file with the court and serve on opposing counsel notices of change of address, as required by Mass.R.Civ.P. 11(d).

In mid-2000, the neighbors filed motions to dismiss the damage action because the respondent had not produced any documents or answers to interrogatories. The respondent did not advise the clients of these motions or oppose them and did not produce any documents or answers to interrogatories. The damage action was dismissed.

The respondent’s failure to file an affidavit that notice of the zoning appeal had been given, thereby causing the dismissal of the zoning appeal, and his failure to serve answers to interrogatories and to produce requested documents, thereby causing the dismissal of the damage action, was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.2(a), 1.3 and 8.4(h). His failure to file and serve notices of his new addresses as required by Mass.R.Civ.P. 11(d) was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 3.4(c), 8.4(d) and 8.4(h). His failure to keep the clients reasonably informed of the status of their cases was in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a), 1.4(b) and 8.4(h).

In aggravation, while the clients’ damage claim was contested on liability, the value of the trees removed by the neighbors was at least $7,000. In mitigation, the zoning appeal was of doubtful validity.

In further mitigation, the respondent did not file changes of address with the court because he believed that his former officemate would stay involved with the clients’ cases and would forward his mail on the two cases. The other attorney failed to forward to the respondent a number of court orders entered in the cases, including the orders dismissing the damage action. The respondent did, however, receive the defendants’ motions for dismissal directly from the defendants’ counsel.

This matter came before the Board of Bar Overseers on a stipulation of facts and rules violations and a joint recommendation that a sanction of public reprimand be imposed. On October 17, 2005, the Board voted to accept the stipulation of the parties and to administer a public reprimand to the respondent.

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



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