Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Richard L. Currier, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF# 11-098
Issued by: Panel A of the Grievance Commission
Date: June 11, 2012
Respondent: Richard L. Currier, Esq.
Bar Number: 002245
Disposition/Conduct: Threatening Prosecution; Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice
REPORT OF FINDINGS OF PANEL A OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION
On May 24, 2012, pursuant to due notice, Panel A of the Grievance Commission conducted a disciplinary hearing open to the public according to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(c)(2), concerning the Respondent, Richard L. Currier, Esq. This disciplinary proceeding was commenced by the filing of a Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar through Bar counsel on December 30, 2011, alleging violations of M. Bar R.3.1(a), 3.2(e)(4), and 3.6(c).
At the disciplinary hearing, the Board was represented by Special Bar Counsel Robert J. Stolt, and Respondent was present and represented by Malcolm Lyons, Esq. The Board's exhibits marked Board Exh. 1-8 were admitted without objection. No exhibits were present by Respondent, Richard L. Currier, Esq. The Panel heard testimony from Attorneys Jeffrey Pickering and Brian E. Swales (inactive).
Having heard the testimony and reviewed the evidence submitted, the Panel hereby makes the following findings:
Respondent Currier is, and was at all times relevant hereto, an attorney duly admitted to and actively engaged in the practice of law in the State of Maine and subject to the Maine Bar Rules.
At the outset of the hearing, the parties stipulated to a finding that Respondent Richard L. Currier did in fact violate the Bar Rules as alleged and that upon the Panel's concurrence, the remainder of the hearing would focus on the appropriate disposition.
In May of 2007 Respondent Currier was retained by Alwilda A. Williams of Amity, Maine to review and investigate two real estate transactions to which she had been a party that involved Attorney Jeffrey Pickering, Esq. (Pet. Ex. 4-294). An initial letter was sent May 20, 2008 (Pet Exh).
Attorney Pickering subsequently replied to Respondent Currier by letter dated June 6, 2008 (Pet Ex. 5).
Subsequently by letter dated June 18, 2008, addressed to Attorney Pickering, Respondent Currier replied in strong language and concluded by stating "Failure to return the title to Mrs. Williams' land and discharge the mortgage on her home by July 3, 2008 will result in a civil action and Bar Complaint without further notice." (Pet. Ex. 6-299)
It is this language that Bar Counsel contends expressly violates Maine Bar Rules 3.1(a), 3.2f(4), and 3.6(c). We agree.
The Panel concludes that Respondent Currier has conducted himself in a manner unworthy of an attorney in violation of M. Bar R. 3.l(a) by threatening to present disciplinary charges, whether or not true, solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter in violation of M. Bar R. 3.2(f) and 3.6(c).
The Maine Bar Rules specifically state that they are "intended to provide appropriate standards for attorneys with respect to their practice of the profession of law, including, but not limited to, their relationship with their clients, the general public, other members of the legal profession, the courts and other agencies of the State," M. Bar R. 2(a). However, 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.
Here, Respondent Currier was an established lawyer with 28 years of experience in the practice of law. It is of considerable concern to the Panel that Respondent Currier admitted that he was ignorant of Bar Rule 3.6(c) in 2008 and not truly aware of his explicit misconducts until sometime later in 2011. Further, he did not discuss this threatened grievance petition against Attorney Pickering with his partner or other legal counsel before acting upon it nine months later.
The Panel further concludes that Respondent Currier violated a specific provision of the Code of Professional Responsibility, namely the prohibition in M. Bar R. 3.6(c): "[a] lawyer shall not ... threaten to present ... disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter."
In considering an appropriate sanction under the Bar Rules, the Panel must consider the following factors set forth in M. Bar R. 7.1 (e)(3)(c):
(i) whether the attorney has violated a duty owed to a client, to the public, to the legal system, or to the profession;
Respondent Currier's actions clearly violated his duties owed to the legal system and to the profession.
Further, Respondent Currier acted upon such threat nine months later. The Panel is unable to conclude that Respondent Currier's misconduct was minor.
(ii) whether the attorney acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently;
The Panel concludes that Respondent Currier's conduct was intentional and that he acted negligently as he admits that he did not know of the Bar Rule in question. Respondent Currier now admits there is no other viable explanation of what other meaning or purpose his statement in the letter might have had.
(iii) the amount of actual or potential injury caused by the attorney's misconduct
Any economic injury caused by Respondent Currier's misconduct appears to have been relatively minor. Nonetheless, Attorney Pickering, the recipient of the letter, did engage an attorney who, among other things, cautioned Respondent Currier to temper his communications. Furthermore, the Panel concludes that Respondent Currier's letter and conduct caused considerable distress to the recipient over at least a nine month period. Attorney Pickering testified that Respondent Currier's misconduct caused him significant emotional distress, particularly in the nine month period between its being made and then acted upon. The Panel is therefore unable to conclude that "little or no injury" occurred.
(iv) the existence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.
The Panel finds that aggravating factors present in this matter include Respondent Currier's initial lack of recognition of his misconduct, and his initial lack of remorse. As a mitigating factor, the Panel notes that Respondent Currier in his testimony did express remorse for the misconduct. While the Panel believes that there is little likelihood that Respondent Currier will repeat this misconduct in the future, nonetheless the violation is serious, and not recognized by Respondent as such for over 3 years.
In view of the foregoing factors, the Panel concludes the appropriate sanction for Respondent Currier's misconduct is a public reprimand, in accordance with M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(c).
Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that Richard L. Currier, Esq., shall be, and hereby is, reprimanded for his violations of Maine Bar Rules 3, 3.2(f)(4), and 3.6(c).
For the Grievance Commission
M. Ray Bradford, Jr. Esq.
Sarah McPartland-Good, Esq.