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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Public Reprimand No. 2006-17



KAREN M. HARBECK

Order (public reprimand) entered by the Board November 2, 2006.

SUMMARY1


On April 11, 2002, the respondent’s client was suspended from work by a public school system for poor work performance and insubordination. The client appealed unsuccessfully to the superintendent and, on July 11, 2002, was terminated.

After she was terminated, the client attempted without success to resolve the dispute through her union. The client alleged that she was the victim of employment discrimination, based on a handicap.

In October of 2002, the client retained the respondent to pursue the matter. On April 17, 2003, the respondent filed claims on behalf of the client with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Before she filed her claims with MCAD and EEOC, the respondent was unaware of, and did not research, the administrative limitation periods for filing employment discrimination claims. On September 19, 2003, the MCAD claim was dismissed because the claim was not filed in a timely manner. On May 11, 2004, the EEOC claim was also dismissed as being untimely.

In September of 2004, the respondent informed the client that the limitation period on her discrimination claim had in fact expired and agreed to file a municipal tort claim against the town where the school system was located.

In April of 2005, the respondent sent a presentment letter to the town pursuant to G.L. c. 258, § #4, alleging that the client was wrongfully terminated and that the town failed to accommodate the client’s handicap. Before she served her presentment letter, the respondent was unaware and did not research the limitation period for making a presentment to a municipality. The presentment letter was mailed more than two years after the last incident giving raise to any claim. On May 19, 2005, the town denied liability on the basis that the presentment letter was not timely.

Between November of 2004 and September of 2005, the client made several attempts to reach the respondent by certified mail, fax and e-mail to discuss the status of her case, but the respondent did not timely respond. The client was unaware that the town had denied liability on the grounds that the presentment letter was not timely.

In September 2005, the respondent admitted to the client that she had not met the deadlines for filing the claims. She advised the client to retain another attorney, to contact the respondent’s malpractice insurance carrier and to file a malpractice claim.

By failing to research the limitation periods applicable to the client’s claims, failing to diligently pursue the client’s remedies, failing to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the case, and failing to respond to the client’s requests for information and explain the case to the extent necessary for the client to make informed decisions, the respondent violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.1, 1.3 and 1.4.

In aggravation, the respondent received an admonition in 2001 for attempting to condition settlement upon withdrawal of complaints to bar counsel and using fee agreements containing impermissible clauses. In mitigation, the respondent was suffering from depression and other problems that impaired her ability to meet deadlines, contributing to her lack of diligence in the current case.

This matter came before the Board on October 16, 2006 on a stipulation of facts and disciplinary violations and a joint recommendation for discipline by public reprimand. The Board accepted the parties’ 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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