Board of Overseers of the Bar v. William L. Dawson, Jr., Esq.

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Docket No.: GCF Nos. 10-328; 10-423 and 11-057

Issued by: Grievance Commission

Date: June 27, 2011

Respondent: William L. Dawson, Jr., Esq.

Bar Number: 006887

Order: Reprimand

Disposition/Conduct: Competence, Communication, Diligence, Engage in Conduct that is Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice


STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL D OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION


On June 27, 2011, 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 the Respondent, William L. Dawson Jr., Esq. Pursuant to M. Bar R. 7(b)(6) the parties consented to this proceeding being conducted by one attorney member and one lay member of Panel D. This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of Disciplinary Petitions by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on March 25, 2011 and May 27, 2011, respectively. Those matters were then consolidated for hearing by agreement of the parties.

At the hearing, Attorney Dawson appeared pro se and the Board was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. The Complainants, Heidi L. Stanley of Swanville, Maine; Pamela S. Rondina of Norton, Massachusetts and John H. Schleicher of Lakewood Ranch, Florida were each provided with a copy of this report (in proposal form). Ms. Stanley was not in attendance, but did indicate to the Board her agreement with the proposed report and disposition(s). Ms. Rondina had intended to attend the hearing, but a family emergency required her to be in California at the time of the hearing. As a result, by agreement of the parties, the Panel was provided with and admitted as an exhibit Ms. Rondina’s email of June 23, 2011 containing the comments she had intended to make at the hearing. In that email, Ms. Rondina stated her support for the findings and action proposed by Bar Counsel and Respondent Dawson. Mr. Schleicher was present and made comment to the Panel regarding Attorney Dawson’s conduct and the proposed report. Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted that stipulated, proposed sanction report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration.

Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, Ms. Rondina’s email exhibit and after receiving sworn testimony from Mr. Schleicher and Attorney Dawson, the Panel makes the following disposition:

FINDINGS

Respondent William L. Dawson, Jr. (Dawson) of Belfast, 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. Attorney Dawson was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1989 and he is currently registered as an active Maine attorney. He is a sole practitioner.

COUNT I
(GCF# 10-328 – Heidi L. Stanley)

Heidi L. Stanley (Stanley) filed a complaint dated September 15, 2010 against Attorney Dawson. Stanley had hired Dawson on or about April 27, 2010 to probate the estate of her deceased domestic partner, Travis Seekin. On or about June 25, 2010 Dawson filed an Application for Informal Appointment of Personal Representative (PR) with the Waldo County Probate Court requesting that Travis’s brother, Earl Seekin, be appointed as the Personal Representative (PR). That appointment was formally declined on July 6, 2010 by the Register of Probate. Dawson did inform Stanley that the Informal Appointment had been rejected, but failed to also explain to her the reason for that rejection or how he planned to now proceed on her behalf. After repeated attempts to contact Dawson for status information during the months of August and September 2010, Stanley contacted the Waldo County Probate Court. On September 14, 2010 she discovered that Dawson had not filed anything to secure the appointment of a PR after July 6, 2010.

Stanley secured new legal counsel to represent her concerning Travis Seekins’ estate and filed a grievance complaint. Bar Counsel sent a docketing letter dated September 22, 2010 to Dawson requesting his written response by October 13, 2010. Dawson failed to so respond. Despite multiple letters and phone calls to Dawson’s law office, he still failed to communicate with Bar Counsel regarding this complaint until he was served with the disciplinary Petition. Dawson filed an Answer to the disciplinary Petition acknowledging that he did not act diligently or communicate effectively with Ms. Stanley. Dawson’s conduct in the Stanley matter violated Maine Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1; 1.3; 1.4; 8.1(b); and 8.4(d).

COUNT II
(GCF# 10-423 – Pamela Rondina)

On December 27, 2010 Pamela Rondina (Rondina) of Norton, Massachusetts filed a grievance complaint against Dawson. Dawson was the named Personal Representative (PR) of the Estate of William Keswick who died in July 2005. On December 3, 2007 the Waldo County Superior Court issued its Consent Judgment and Order approving the parties’ agreement thereto dated November 26, 2007 and confirming the ownership of two KeyBank IRA accounts that had been among Keswick’s assets. The IRA funds of $25,000.00 were determined to belong to the Keswick Estate and were released to Dawson legally as PR of that estate. Thereafter, Dawson was required to deposit those funds in a new account set up for Rondina, who was Keswick’s niece and sole beneficiary. Despite his detailed letter of May 28, 2008 to Rondina describing and promising the legal action he would undertake to maintain the proper segregation of those IRA’s for the Keswick estate, Dawson failed to follow up and set up the account(s) and/or properly disburse those funds to Rondina. Dawson continuously failed to return Rondina’s requests for status information, and nearly one year ago (on July 26, 2010) had promised her that he would “take care of it right away.” Despite that promise, he has yet to properly finalize this estate and the funds remain in the custody of KeyBank.

In this matter, Bar Counsel’s docketing letter of December 29, 2010 requested Dawson’s written response by January 19, 2011. Again, Dawson did not respond to Bar Counsel until he was served with a disciplinary Petition. Dawson filed an Answer to the disciplinary Petition acknowledging that he did not expeditiously transfer the funds to Rondina, claiming that failure was due in part to the bank’s refusal to conduct a custodial transfer. Rondina has still not received those funds, now totaling at least $25,000.00. Dawson also agreed and admitted that he did not communicate effectively with Rondina. Dawson’s conduct in the Rondina matter violated Maine Bar Rules 3.1(a); 3.2(f)(3)(4); 3.6(a)(2)(3) and Maine Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1; 1.3; 1.4; 1.15(iii)(iv;); 1.16(b)(1); 2.1; 8.1(b); 8.4(a)(d).

COUNT III
(GCF# 11-057 – John H. Schleicher)

On February 14, 2011 John H. Schleicher (Schleicher) of Lakewood Ranch, Florida filed a complaint against Dawson. Dawson represented Schleicher’s mother, Eunice, in a personal injury claim which was settled July 14, 2008. Funds from the settlement were held by Dawson to pay a subrogation lien. That lien was still outstanding when Eunice Schleicher passed away on September 30, 2008. Schleicher was appointed PR of his mother’s Estate and directed Dawson to pay the lien and disburse any remaining funds. Due to Dawson’s failure to pay the lien holder, Schleicher was served with a third-party complaint on August 10, 2010. Schleicher’s counsel made multiple demands for Dawson to pay the lien holder prior to scheduling Dawson to be deposed. On the eve of the deposition, Dawson agreed to make the necessary payments. As a result, the lien holder was paid $3,333.33, but Dawson only very recently provided his IOLTA check for the outstanding $1,666.67 to Schleicher’s private attorney. Schleicher also incurred significant personal legal fees caused by Dawson’s misconduct and failure to timely pay that amount due to Schleicher. On June 23, 2011 Dawson remitted one-half of those owed attorney fees - $1,060.03 – to Schleicher’s attorney.

Although Bar Counsel’s docketing letter of February 23, 2011 requested his written response to this grievance complaint by March 15, 2011, Dawson again failed to so respond to Bar Counsel concerning this grievance matter. Dawson’s conduct in the Schleicher matter violated Maine Bar Rules 3.1(a); 3.2(f)(4); 3.6(a)(2)(3) and Maine Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1; 1.3; 1.4; 1.5; 1.15(d)(f); 3.2; 8.1(b) and 8.4(c)(d).

CONCLUSION AND SANCTION

The Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Due to Attorney Dawson’s above-outlined failures in communicating with his three (3) clients, neglecting their cases, failing to remit and pay their respectively owed money amounts and failing to respond to Bar Counsel’s requests for information on all three cases, he did not uphold those responsibilities. The evidence supports a finding and Attorney Dawson agrees that he did in fact violate the provisions of the then effective Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct as cited above.

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. Among the factors to be considered in imposing disciplinary sanctions are: the duty violated, the lawyer’s mental state, the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer’s misconduct and the existence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. See ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, 1991 (ABA Standards). See also M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C).

The first factor to be considered for sanctions under the ABA Standards is to determine what duty has been breached. In each of the above cases, Attorney Dawson breached duties to his clients by not acting with reasonable diligence and not communicating with them about their respective matters. Dawson also violated his duties owed to the profession of law by failing to answer Bar Counsel’s inquiries.

As an attorney who has practiced law in Maine for over twenty years, Dawson knowingly failed to act on behalf of each of the aggrieved clients. His failure to respond to Bar Counsel was likewise knowing and unacceptable conduct.

Dawson’s conduct caused little or no actual injury to Ms. Stanley because she was able to proceed with successor counsel in a few short months. Dawson’s conduct did cause injury to Ms. Rondina because she was deprived of access to funds that were undisputedly hers for a period in excess of three years. Mr. Schleicher was financially harmed by Dawson’s conduct in that he was forced to hire another attorney to defend himself against a lawsuit filed to disgorge the funds Dawson failed to disburse from his IOLTA account, and money due to Mr. Schleicher’s mothers’ Estate was withheld for over two years. Dawson’s conduct caused injury to the profession as Bar Counsel and the respective review panels of the Grievance Commission were unable to evaluate the extent of Dawson’s misconduct in each instance due to his failure to submit any responses prior to the preliminary reviews by Grievance Commission panels in each instance.

Dawson’s pattern of misconduct by neglecting his duties in all three cases constitutes an aggravating circumstance. There are several mitigating factors. Dawson has practiced law in Maine for over 20 years with no prior disciplinary sanctions. Dawson faced family challenges which resulted in his wife and him seeking and receiving guardianship of two young grandchildren in 2007. That guardianship was later challenged which then involved emotional and prolonged litigation. Both Dawson and his wife experienced stress–related illnesses attributable to the intense litigation. The panel notes that Attorney Dawson has taken some responsibility for his transgressions, but still has outstanding money obligations in the Rondina and Schleicher matters. At the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Dawson expressed his remorse for his serious violations of the then applicable Code of Professional Responsibility and now current Maine Rules of Professional Conduct.

As a result, the Panel understands and expects the following events will occur:

  1. On or before August 29, 2011 Dawson shall confirm with appropriate authentication to Bar Counsel that the Keswick IRA assets of $25,000.00 have been obtained by him and properly provided to or established for the ultimate benefit of Ms. Rondina;

  2. On or before July 8, 2011, Dawson shall remit the $1,060.03 remaining balance of Schleicher’s owed attorney fees to Attorney Donald Briggs;

  3. By no later than July 29, 2011 Dawson shall properly authorize the Director of the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers (MAP) to provide written confirmation to Bar Counsel that Dawson has executed a treatment contract with MAP, is acting in compliance with that contract and to provide written confirmation to Bar Counsel every six (6) months of the current status of that treatment; and

  4. By no later than August 31, 2011, Dawson shall properly confirm with the Board of Overseers of the Bar’s CLE Coordinator his completion and removal of his current outstanding balance of 8.5 continuing legal education credit hours still due for 2010, with at least three (3) of those remaining credit hours being satisfied by courses or presentations primarily focused on law practice management areas and issues.

Dawson has indicated to the Panel his understanding that his failure to fully comply with any of the above listed four (4) requirements shall result in Bar Counsel’s docketing of a new grievance complaint(s) under M. Bar R. 7.1(b) based upon Dawson’s failure to fulfill the requirements of this order of the Panel.

Therefore, based upon all of the above findings and conditions, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Dawson’s separately executed waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes as follows:

  1. The appropriate disposition of GCF No. 10-328 is a Public Reprimand to William L. Dawson, Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C), (4);

  2. The appropriate disposition of GCF No. 10-423 is a Public Reprimand to William L. Dawson, Esq. which is now herby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C), (4); and

  3. The appropriate disposition of GCF No. 11-057 is a Public Reprimand to William L. Dawson, Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C), (4).


For the Grievance Commission

Benjamin P. Townsend, Esq. Chair

Joseph R. Reisert, Ph.D.