Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Robert M. Walsh

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Docket No.: GCF No. 11-011

Issued by: Grievance Commission

Date: December 19, 2011

Respondent: Robert M. Walsh

Bar Number: 002483

Order: Dismissal with Warning

Disposition/Conduct: Failure to File Affidavit after being Adminstratively Suspended


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


On December 19, 2011, with due notice, Panel C of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning alleged misconduct by the Respondent, Robert M. Walsh (Walsh). This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on July 20, 2011.

Walsh attended the hearing and represented himself pro se. The Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Jacqueline L.L. Gomes. Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted a proposed Report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration.
Having reviewed the proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:

FINDINGS

Respondent Robert M. Walsh of Manchester, New Hampshire was, until the imposition of an administrative suspension, at all times relevant hereto an attorney duly admitted to the practice of law in the State of Maine and subject to the Maine Bar Rules. Walsh was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1981.

On October 15, 2010 Walsh was administratively suspended by the Board due to CLE deficiencies and his failure to register and pay the fees required by Maine Bar Rules Rules 6(a)(1), 10(a) and 12, as well as Rule 3(a) of Maine’s Rules For Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection. Walsh did not file the affidavit certifying his compliance with Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2) as required within 30 days after that suspension date. By its certified letter of December 7, 2010, the Board notified Walsh of the consequence of his failure to file that required affidavit. On or about December 10, 2010 an agent of Walsh, Danielle Jackson, accepted and received the Board’s certified mailing of December 7, 2010 concerning his failure to comply with Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2). Walsh failed to meet Bar Counsel’s filing deadline of January 3, 2011.

On January 13, 2011, Bar Counsel docketed a sua sponte grievance complaint against Walsh for his failure to comply with the affidavit requirements. Walsh did not respond to the investigation of this grievance in violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 8.1(b). On March 31, 2011 a panel of the Grievance Commission reviewed Walsh’s actions and, based upon that review, found probable cause to believe that he had engaged in misconduct subject to sanction under the Maine Bar Rules.

On July 20, 2011, the Board filed the Disciplinary Petition. On August 18, 2011, Walsh signed the Notice and Acknowledgement and filed an Answer to the Disciplinary Petition dated August 30, 2011. In his Answer, Walsh explained that his failure to fulfill the registration requirements, failure to respond to the correspondence regarding the administrative suspension and grievance matters, and failure to file the required affidavit were all due to stress, depression and grief associated with the diagnosis, course of treatment and, ultimately, the loss of his wife to cancer on July 24, 2010. Walsh paid all past due amounts to the Board, including reinstatement fees. Walsh’s affidavit certifying compliance with the requirements of M. Bar R. 7.3(i)(2)(A)(B) was filed on September 27, 2011.

CONCLUSION AND SANCTION

Walsh violated Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2)(A)(B) and Maine Rules of Professional Conduct 8.1(b) and 8.4(a). As a consequence of his administrative suspension, he is not currently a licensed member of the Maine bar.

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 to properly discharge their professional duties. 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 for sanctions under the ABA Standards is to determine what duty has been breached. The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Walsh violated his duties to the legal system by failing to complete the annual registration requirements in 2010 and by failing to file the required notification affidavit once he was administratively suspended. Walsh’s neglect caused minor injury to the legal system. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court promulgated the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct to govern the practice of law by Maine attorneys. The information collected by the annual registration of lawyers facilitates the protection of the public and courts.

There are no aggravating circumstances. There are, however, several mitigating circumstances. This is the only instance of misconduct since Walsh was admitted to the Maine bar in 1981. It is not the result of dishonest or selfish motives and occurred during a time of personal tragedy, grief, depression and financial difficulty. Walsh, a solo practitioner, was faced with distracting family responsibilities from the time his wife was diagnosed with cancer in July 2008 until her death on July 24, 2010. Walsh received treatment for depression while his wife was ill and for acute grief reaction after her death. Walsh reduced the size of his practice in New Hampshire as a result of his difficulties. He has not represented a client in Maine for over ten (10) years. There was no injury to any Maine clients as a result of his misconduct. Further, Walsh took responsibility for his transgressions. At the disciplinary hearing, Walsh expressed his remorse for his violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Walsh apologized to Bar Counsel and the Grievance Commission.

Walsh informed the Panel that he was filing a Petition for Reinstatement with the Executive Clerk of the Law Court pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.3(j)(4), that he intended to request that the administrative suspension be lifted and to withdraw formally from the practice of law in Maine.

Because the misconduct was minor, there was no harm to any clients, little harm to the profession and the misconduct is unlikely to be repeated, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Walsh’s separately executed waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review. As a result, the Panel concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Dismissal With Warning to Robert M. Walsh which is now hereby issued pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(C), (4).


For the Grievance Commission

Peter C. Fessenden, Esq., Chair

Martica S. Douglas, Esq.

Christine Holden, Ph.D.