Board of Overseers of the Bar v. E. Christopher L'Hommedieu, Esq.
Download Download Decision (PDF)
Docket No.: BAR 01-03
Issued by: Single Justice
Date: October 23, 2001
Respondent: E. Christopher L'Hommedieu
Bar Number: 008229
Disposition/Conduct: Conduct Unworthy of an Attorney
This matter came directly before the Court on October 23, 2001 pursuant to counsel's stipulated waiver of June 27, 2001 and the Court's Order of June 29, 2001. The Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. The affected client, Andrew Gaillard, was not present, and Bar Counsel earlier provided his attorney, Jon Holder, Esq., with a copy of the parties' proposed resolution of this grievance matter and notice of this hearing date. Defendant E. Christopher L'Hommedieu, Esq. was present with his attorney, Peter J. DeTroy, III, Esq.
The parties have stipulated to the following material facts:
Mr. L'Hommedieu was admitted to practice in Maine in 1995 and has been practicing in Lewiston, Maine since 1997.
In the summer of 1999, Andrew Gaillard, whom Mr. L'Hommedieu had earl represented on other matters, informed Mr. L'Hommedieu that he was pursuing a claim for Social Security disability benefits.
On or about October 15, 1999 Mr. Gaillard's claim for Social Security disability benefits was denied, whereupon Mr. L'Hommedieu agreed to assist him in the appeal of that decision.
In fact, however, Mr. L'Hommedieu did not timely file the required Petition for Reconsideration or take any other steps to pursue Mr. Gaillard's Social Security appeal.
Throughout 2000, Mr. Gaillard made a number of status inquiry telephone calls to which Mr. L'Hommedieu wrongly assured him that he had done all that could be done and that the responsibility for the delay was with the Social Security Administration.
In fact, at least by November 7, 2000, Mr. L'Hommedieu knew that the fault of the delay was his rather than the Social Security Administration, but he continued to mislead Mr. Gaillard. In November of 2000, Mr. L'Hommedieu personally visited the Social Security Administration Office in Lewiston and confirmed there was no Petition for Reconsideration in Mr. Gaillard's file. He never so advised Mr. Gaillard of that finding.
In January of 2001, Mr. L'Hommedieu went to the Social Security Administration Office and filed Mr. Gaillard's Petition for Reconsideration with required attachments. Mr. Gaillard's signatures contained on the Petition and other filed documents had been falsified and backdated by Mr. L'Hommedieu, by his photocopying of Mr. Gaillard's signatures from other documents onto those filed documents. By so doing, Mr. L'Hommedieu made each document falsely appear to contain the proper signature of Mr. Gaillard.
Shortly thereafter Mr. L'Hommedieu called Mr. Gaillard and informed him that he had made "a mistake”, and referenced his failure to monitor the lack of responsiveness from the Social Security Administration. But Mr. L'Hommedieu failed to then advise Mr. Gaillard that the Petition for Reconsideration had never in fact been timely filed by him, and that the Petition he subsequently filed had been falsified by him.
In late January 2001, Mr. Gaillard fired Mr. L'Hommedieu for reasons related to that delay, and then retained a new attorney to handle his Social Security matter. It was through the efforts of his new attorney that Mr. Gaillard first learned that Mr. L'Hommedieu had misrepresented to him the actual reasons for the delay Mr. L'Hommedieu's own neglect - and that the signatures on the documents had been falsified by Mr. L'Hommedieu.
In February 2001, Mr. L'Hommedieu's own attorney reviewed the matter and shortly thereafter self-reported Mr. L'Hommedieu's misconduct to Bar Counsel.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
The parties have stipulated and the Court finds that Mr. L'Hommedieu's misconduct was intentional and violated Maine Bar Rules 3.1 (a) (conduct unworthy of an attorney); 3.2(f) (3) (4) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice); 3.6 (a) (3) (a lawyer must employ reasonable care and skill and apply the lawyer's best judgment in the performance of professional services. A lawyer shall be punctual in all professional commitments. A lawyer shall take reasonable measures to keep the client informed on the status of the client's affairs. A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer); and 3. 7 (e) (1) (i) (conduct which seeks to mislead a tribunal).
These violations of the Bar Rules, particularly those involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation are very serious.
A lawyer's participation in the presentation or in this case, the actual creation of a knowingly false document is the clearest kind of ethical breach. Continuously since long before Maine became a separate state, new lawyers upon admission to the bar have taken the following solemn oath:
You solemnly swear that you will do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court, and that if you know of an intention to commit any, you will give knowledge thereof to the justices of the court or some of them that it may be prevented; you will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any false, groundless or unlawful suit nor give aid or consent to the same; that you will delay no man for lucre or malice, but will conduct yourself in the office of an attorney within the courts according to the best of your knowledge and discretion, and with all good fidelity, as well as to the courts, as to your clients. So help you God.
4 M.R.S.A. §806 (1979). As stated above, Maine's Code of Professional Responsibility mandates that a “lawyer shall not ... engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation," M. Bar R. 3.2(f) (3).
It is clear that Mr. L'Hommedieu now recognizes that the artful, falsified copying of his client's “signatures" onto the belatedly filed documents was completely inappropriate and violative of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Since the incident he has received counseling. “The purpose of [a bar disciplinary] proceeding is not punishment, but protection of the public and the courts from attorneys who by their conduct have demonstrated that they are unable, or likely to be unable to discharge properly their professional duties." M. Bar R. 2(a) (Purpose of Rules).
The Court has considered the purpose of this bar disciplinary proceeding in imposing the sanction in this case. Having found these violations of the Maine Bar Rules, and agreeing with the parties that they are serious, the Court must now consider an appropriate sanction. It is well established that the main purpose of attorney discipline is not punishment, but protection of the public. In addition, in imposing discipline, the Court should not only examine the facts of the case at bar, but also the prior record and experience of the attorney involved. Although Mr. L'Hommedieu has practiced law in Maine for only six (6) years, he has never been found to have violated any Bar Rules. Mr. L'Hommedieu stipulated to the facts without a hearing and acknowledges the seriousness of his failure to comply with the Code. He has apologized to the Court and affirmed that he will make every effort to ensure that no future violations occur. As ordered below, such efforts will occur under the guidance of a court-appointed Monitor.
Accordingly, the Court HEREBY ORDERS that E. Christopher L'Hommedieu be and hereby is suspended from the practice of law in Maine for a period of one (1) year commencing November 1, 2001, with all but sixty (60) days that suspension itself being suspended for one year subject to the following terms and conditions:
The Court appoints Leonard I. Sharon, Esq. as Monitor for Mr. L'Hommedieu for a period of one year commencing January 1, 2002, unless terminated earlier as herein provided or by other order of this Court;
During the period of supervision, Mr. Sharon shall receive monthly written reports from Mr. L'Hommedieu concerning the current status of matters in which he has been retained to act as counsel;
Mr. Sharon is a volunteer who shall receive no compensation and who shall be expected to incur no expense;
Mr. L'Hommedieu will meet with Mr. Sharon within twenty-five (25) days of the date of this Order and thereafter at the call and convenience of Mr. Sharon on a monthly basis, unless Mr. Sharon should determine more frequent meetings are appropriate;
Mr. Sharon shall have the right to withdraw and terminate his service at any time for any reason he deems sufficient, including for reasons set forth in Paragraph 6 below. In the event of a withdrawal, he shall notify the Court and Bar Counsel, and Mr. L'Hommedieu shall then cooperate to obtain the services of an alternate Monitor to complete the remainder of the original Monitor's term;
If any aspect of the monitoring procedure creates a situation which is, or might be interpreted to be a conflict of interest under the Maine Bar Rules (for example, if Mr. L'Hommedieu is or becomes opposing counsel concerning a matter involving Mr. Sharon), then Mr. Sharon may adopt anyone of the following courses with the proposed result:
a. Mr. Sharon shall cease to act as such and a potential conflict is avoided; b. Mr. Sharon shall continue as Monitor but totally exclude Mr. L'Hommedieu's client and matter in question from the monitoring process, so that no conflict is deemed to exist; c. Mr. Sharon shall continue as Monitor, and obligate his firm to withdraw from the conflicting matter; or d. Mr. Sharon shall continue as Monitor, and obligate Mr. L'Hommedieu not to participate in the matter and to obtain new counsel for his client(s).
If in Mr. Sharon's judgment it is appropriate, he shall have the right to contact clerks of court, judges, or opposing counsel to determine the accuracy of Mr. L'Hommedieu's reports to him.
Mr. Sharon shall have no contact with any of Mr. L'Hommedieu's clients and his only contact in the performance of his duties shall be with Mr. L'Hommedieu or other persons contemplated by this Order. Mr. Sharon's participation in the monitoring of Mr. L'Hommedieu's practice shall be deemed not to create an attorney-client relationship between Mr. Sharon and Mr. L'Hommedieu or between Mr. Sharon and Mr. L'Hommedieu's clients;
Mr. Sharon shall file a confidential report with the Court on or before February 1, 2002, and quarterly thereafter or sooner if Mr. Sharon deems it necessary, with copies to Mr. L'Hommedieu and Bar Counsel concerning any professional assistance Mr. Sharon has provided to Mr. L'Hommedieu;
Mr. L'Hommedieu is currently serving as a Guardian ad Litem in five (5) matters in the Lewiston District Court. He may continue to act as the Guardian ad Litem just in those five (5) matters during his period of suspension, but shall not provide any legal advice therein during the 60-day period of actual suspension.
Mr. Sharon will have the duty to report to Bar Counsel and to the Court any apparent or actual professional misconduct by Mr. L'Hommedieu of which Mr. Sharon becomes aware or lack of cooperation by Mr. L'Hommedieu the performance of this Order.
In the event a grievance complaint is received by Bar Counsel concerning alleged conduct occurring on this date or thereafter, such complaint shall be processed under either Bar Rule 7.1(c) or 7.1(d), as appropriate, but in the event a preliminary review panel finds probable cause of misconduct under Bar Rule 7.1 (d) (5), the matter shall then be filed directly before the Court under Bar Rule 7.2(b); and
Any apparent violation of the conditions of this Order shall be filed by Bar Counsel with the Court.
For the Court
Robert W. Clifford Associate Justice