Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Nathan D. Bell, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF-10-010
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: July 26, 2010
Respondent: Nathan D. Bell, Esq.
Bar Number: 08683
Disposition/Conduct: Standards of Care and Judgment: Compentence; Diligence; Lack of
STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL D OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C) M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(4)
On July 26, 2010, with due notice, Panel D of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning misconduct by Respondent Nathan D. Bell, Esq. This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a stipulated Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on June 1, 2010.
At the hearing, Attorney Bell was represented by Attorney James M. Bowie, and the Board was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. The Complainant, Raymond Carey, had been provided with a copy of counsel’s proposed Report (see below) and chose to not attend the hearing. Pursuant to M. Bar R. 7(b)(6), Bar Counsel Davis and Attorney Bowie agreed Panel D could act on this matter comprised of only one attorney member and one lay member.
Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted a stipulated, proposed sanction Report for the Panel’s review and consideration. Additionally, the Panel accepted and admitted into evidence by agreement of the parties all of the Board’s exhibits.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent Nathan D. Bell (Bell) of Unity, County of Waldo, State of Maine, has been at all times relevant hereto an attorney duly admitted to and engaging in the practice of law in the State of Maine and subject to the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorney Bell was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1998 and he is currently registered as an active Maine attorney with a solo practice.
On or about January 6, 2010, Mr. Carey filed a complaint with the Board against Attorney Bell. Mr. Carey’s complaint alleged that Attorney Bell did not pursue his claim to obtain an elective one-third of his deceased wife’s property prior to the expiration of the statutorily limited time frame. Mr. Carey also complained that Attorney Bell failed to attempt negotiations for a conveyance of the property from a third owner and failed to properly communicate or respond to his inquiries regarding the status of the case.
Mr. Carey was also concerned that Attorney Bell did not acknowledge his requests for the return of his file. In fact, he did not return that file until after Mr. Carey’s bar complaint was filed against him.
Attorney Bell had initially responded by generally disputing most of Mr. Carey’s claims. He does now, however, admit to neglect of the matter and that upon receipt of the November 20, 2009 certified letter from Mr. Carey asking for the return of the file he did not promptly return that file to his client.
In response to that November 20th letter, Attorney Bell did not call Mr. Carey, or return the file by mail. Instead, some three weeks later he took the file to Mr. Carey’s house to deliver it in person. Mr. Carey, however, was not home and therefore the file was not then delivered. It then improperly remained for an extended time on Attorney Bell’s “to do list,” i.e. for approximately another month until Mr. Carey filed this Bar Complaint in January 2010. Attorney Bell only then mailed Mr. Carey his complete file. Attorney Bell’s two reply letters to Bar Counsel contained no supporting documentation. Moreover, documentation in this matter was supplied to Bar Counsel by Mr. Carey and includes an August 21, 2006 letter from Attorney Bell to one of the two other estate beneficiaries in this matter, Mr. Wesley Drake (the son of Mr. Carey’s wife).
Although he had never so admitted in his response to Bar Counsel, in his letter to Mr. Drake Attorney Bell specifically stated that the estate file was “misplaced” by him for a period of time, a fact that he had only discovered upon inquiry by Mr. Carey. He admitted that he had engaged in a “lack of attention” to Mr. Carey’s legal matter involving his wife’s estate. Attorney Bell’s statements in that letter support Mr. Carey’s assertions against him: Attorney Bell admitted misplacing the file for a time period and agreed he had neglected this matter by his “lack of attention”.
The Code of Professional Responsibility and Maine Rules of Professional Conduct each specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Due to Attorney Bell’s above-outlined failures, Mr. Carey was misled as to the status of the prolonged probate of his wife’s still pending estate, and had to endure Attorney Bell’s lack of response to his inquiries. The Panel notes that Attorney Nathan D. Bell has taken responsibility for his lapses. At the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Bell expressed his remorse for his violation of Maine Bar Rule 3.6(a)(3)(neglectful conduct) of the earlier applicable Code of Professional Responsibility, as well as of Rules 1.1(lack of competence), 1.3(lack of diligence) and 1.4(lack of communication) of the now applicable Maine Rules of Professional Conduct.
M. Bar. R. 2(a) provides that the purpose of bar disciplinary proceedings is not punishment, but rather the protection of the public from attorneys who, by their conduct, have demonstrated that they are unable, or likely to be unable, to discharge properly their professional duties. Attorney Bell has no sanction record with the Board of Overseers of the Bar. Since the evidence supports a finding of misconduct in this instance and Attorney Bell agrees that he did in fact violate the above-referenced attorney conduct rules, the Panel finds that a public reprimand serves those purposes.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Bells’ waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Reprimand of Nathan D. Bell, Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C),(4).
For the Parties
J. Scott Davis, Bar Counsel
Nathan D. Bell, Esq.
James M. Bowie, Esq.
For the Grievance Commission
William Baghdoyan, Esq., Acting Panel Chair
David Nyberg, Ph.D.