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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2006-5



WALTER E. STEELE

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board April 06, 2006.

SUMMARY1


A client who had previously worked as a teacher in the Cambridge public schools retained the respondent in October 2001 to assist him in securing an administrative position in the Cambridge School Department. The client paid the respondent a retainer of $1,000 for his anticipated services. At the time, the respondentís customary hourly fee was $150 per hour. The respondent sent a letter to the superintendent of schools inquiring about the possibility of allowing the client to assume an administrative position in the school department. After writing the letter, the respondent conducted no more than two hours of research concerning the possibility of bringing an age discrimination complaint against the school department on the clientís behalf.

In December 2001, the respondent informed the client that he did not believe the client could prevail on an age discrimination claim against the school department. The client told the respondent that he intended to submit an application to the Cambridge School Department for a job as a principal. The respondent understood that the client was relying on him for further assistance in his effort to secure a job.

In May 2002, the client informed the respondent that his application for a principalís position had been rejected and requested further legal advice about the implications of his failure to get the principalís job and his ability to secure other employment in the school system. The respondent did not reply to the clientís request for further advice.

The client sent emails and letters to the respondent in May and July 2002 expressing frustration with the respondentís failure to reply to his requests for further assistance. The client asked the respondent to return his file and the fee he had paid. The respondent did not reply to these communications. In August 2002, in response to the clientís demands, the respondent agreed to turn over the clientís file and refund his $1,000.

When the respondent did not promptly return the file or the retainer, the client complained to the Office of Bar Counsel. In December 2002, several months after the client complained to bar counsel, the respondent returned the clientís file and refunded $1,000.

The respondentís retention of the entire $1,000 retainer his client had paid to him after performing no more than three hours of work on the clientís behalf violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.5(a) (lawyer shall not charge or collect a clearly excessive fee). The respondentís failure to respond to his clientís requests for information violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.4(a) and (b) (lawyer shall promptly comply with clientís reasonable requests for information and shall explain matter to extent reasonably necessary to enable client to make informed decisions regarding the representation).

In another matter, the respondent represented two individuals who were engaged in real estate development projects. In about May 2002, one of the clients asked the respondent to prepare a waiver of mechanics lien to send to an insurance company so that the company would release insurance proceeds to pay for work done on an insuredís property. The respondent prepared the document as the client had requested.

With the other clientís consent, the respondent signed the other clientís name on the waiver and notarized the clientís signature on the document. The respondentís notarization of the clientís signature when he knew that the client had not signed the document violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4(c) and (h) (lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving misrepresentation or other conduct adversely reflecting on fitness to practice law).

The respondent received a public reprimand for this misconduct.

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



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