Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Paul O. Dillon
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Docket No.: GCF 10-337
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: September 27, 2011
Respondent: Paul O. Dillon
Bar Number: 006894
Disposition/Conduct: Diligence; Communication; Misconduct; Neglect
STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL D OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION
On September 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, Paul O. Dillon, Esq. This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on May 2, 2011.
At the hearing, Respondent Dillon appeared pro se and the Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Jacqueline L.L. Gomes. Complainants, Hazel and Edwin Littlefield, were provided with a copy of the parties’ proposed Report of Findings and Order to review in advance of the hearing and approved the parties’ proposed sanction. Complainant Hazel Littlefield was also present and she addressed the Panel. Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted a stipulated, proposed sanction Report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent Paul O. Dillon, Esq. (Dillon) of Corinth, 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. Dillon was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1989 and he is currently a sole practitioner.
On September 15, 2010, Edwin and Hazel Littlefield (the Littlefields) filed a complaint against Dillon stating that they had engaged him at the beginning of November 2007 for estate planning purposes. They alleged that he failed to timely complete all of the legal work necessary to effectuate their intent, repeatedly told them that the work would be completed by certain dates and failed to provide any reason for the delays.
Based upon Dillon’s analysis of their financial circumstances and their intent, the Littlefields resolved to create individual revocable living trusts, Wills to supplement those trusts and other estate planning documents. At an appointment on November 29, 2007, the Littlefields executed the trusts and other ancillary documents prepared by Dillon.
In order to effectuate the Littlefields’ estate planning decisions, all of their assets then needed to be equally placed into their individual trusts. Those assets were diversified involving multiple financial accounts, life insurance policies and annuities, a parcel of real estate in Florida and seventeen (17) parcels of real estate in Maine. Additionally, some of the Maine real estate parcels were co-owned by other family members. While Dillon timely completed the essential documents to transfer financial assets to the trusts, he acknowledges that he did not complete and record all of the ancillary deeds until February of 2011.
The Littlefields initially intended to transfer their Maine real estate holdings to the trusts from their then existing ownership arrangements which consisted of property held in joint tenancy together, property held jointly with rights of survivorship, property held in joint tenancy with other co-owners and property held as tenants in common with other co-owners. Before the trust documents were executed, however, the Littlefields and other co-owners agreed to exchange some of the co-owned properties and to divide other properties so that the Littlefields would be the sole owners of all the real estate parcels transferred into their respective trusts.
Dillon timely drafted the deeds which required the Littlefields’ signatures. After this grievance complaint was filed, Dillon recognized his neglect in delaying the recording of those deeds after they had been executed on or about November 29, 2007. Dillon has now admitted to the Littlefields that he had, unrealistically, planned on recording all of the deeds at the same time. Dillon has now further admitted that he became overwhelmed with the task of drafting the additional deeds which required the creation of legal descriptions for the properties being exchanged and divided. Instead of notifying the Littlefields that he was having difficulty developing the new legal descriptions and rights of way for the properties being divided, Dillon repeatedly gave them false and unrealistic assurances that the deeds would be completed by self-imposed time limits.
Prior to the time the Littlefields filed this grievance complaint, Dillon had caused an attorney to draft and record the Florida deed. In mitigation of his then partially recognized neglect of the Littlefields’ matter, Dillon paid for the drafting and recording of that deed. He renewed his efforts to complete and record the rest of the deeds after learning of the Littlefields’ complaint. Most of the deeds which required additional signatures were completed in November 2010 and all of the deeds were recorded by February 2011. Dillon has now accepted responsibility for failing to timely complete all of the legal work necessary to fund their respective trusts and has apologized to the Littlefields for not meeting the earlier deadlines he had given them. In further mitigation of his misconduct, Dillon paid for the recording and transfer tax on all of the Maine properties.
Dillon admits that his failure to complete the work in a reasonable time, failure to keep his clients informed and general neglect of the matter prior to August 1, 2009 constituted violations of the then applicable Code of Professional Responsibility: 3.1(a); 3.2(f)(4) and 3.6(a)(3). Dillon also admits that his continued failures after August 1, 2009 constituted violations of the following Maine Rules of Professional Conduct: 1.3; 1.4(a)(1)(2)(3)(4) and 8.4(a)(d).
Moreover, when Bar Counsel’s office contacted Dillon during its investigation and processing of this complaint matter, Dillon failed to ever answer or respond to the Littlefields’ complaint despite having been granted three extensions of time in which to do so. Dillon ultimately did file an Answer to the Disciplinary Petition and he has accepted responsibility for his failures to properly discharge his duties. Dillon has expressed his regret at that lapse and admits that his initial lack of response constituted a violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 8.1(b) and 8.4(d).
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 to properly discharge their professional duties. See M. Bar. R. 2(a). Among the factors to be considered in imposing 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 in determining sanctions under the ABA Standards is to determine what duty has been breached. The Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Dillon violated the duties he owed to the Littlefields by failing to complete the documents necessary to fund their chosen estate plans and failing to inform them of the reasons for his delay. Additionally, Dillon violated his duties to the profession by failing to participate in or cooperate with the investigation conducted by Bar Counsel.
Dillon did not intentionally mislead the Littlefields when he told them that his work would be concluded because he did believe (unrealistically) that he would complete the work each time he set a deadline. His failure to respond to Bar Counsel’s inquiries was due in part to personal reasons and in part to his efforts to complete and record the Littlefields’ deeds.
The Littlefields were injured when Attorney Dillon’s lack of diligence deprived them of the certainty of their chosen estate plans for over three (3) years and exposed their respective probate estates to unnecessary state and federal estate taxes during that time.
The Panel notes that Dillon was issued a dismissal with a warning on April 2, 1998 after he neglected to arrange for coverage of another client’s matter during a time he was unavailable due to illness. In this instance, with the Littlefields, Dillon neglected to timely complete the work because the task became daunting to him.
The Panel notes, however, the presence of several mitigating factors. Among them, Dillon has taken responsibility for his transgressions, apologized to the Littlefields, completed the previously neglected work and paid the expenses necessary to produce and record their deeds. Additionally, Dillon took responsibility for his failure to respond to Bar Counsel and apologized for his misconduct. At the disciplinary hearing, Dillon expressed his remorse for his serious violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct.
Since the evidence supports the above findings and Dillon agrees that he did in fact violate the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Panel finds that a public reprimand serves those purposes.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Dillon’s separately executed Waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Reprimand to Paul O. Dillon, 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
Maurice A. Libner, Esq., Chair
Mary A. Denison, Esq.
Kathleen A. Schulz