Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Matthew E. Campbell, Esq.

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Docket No.: GCF# 17-123

Issued by: Grievance Commission

Date: October 13, 2017

Respondent: Matthew E. Campbell, Esq.

Bar Number: 007296

Order: Admonition

Disposition/Conduct: Competence, Diligence, Responsibilities regarding Nonlawyer Assistants


STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL C OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION
M. Bar R. 13(e)


On October 13, 2017, with due notice, Panel C of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 13(e), concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Attorney Matthew E. Campbell. 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 10, 2017.

At the hearing, Attorney Campbell was present and represented by Attorney Phillip E. Johnson, and the Board was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. Prior to the scheduled hearing date, counsel notified the Clerk that they had agreed upon a proposed Stipulated Report of this disciplinary matter, with that proposed sanction Report being submitted for Panel C’s review and consideration. The complainant, Eva V. Albano, had been provided with a copy of the parties’ proposed Stipulated Report. She was present and made comments to the Panel at that proceeding.

Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:

FINDINGS

Attorney Matthew E. Campbell of Portland, 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 he is subject to the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorney Campbell was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1991 and currently serves as full-time counsel for Phenix Title Services in Portland.

On March 13, 2017, Eva V. Albano filed a complaint against Attorney Campbell. Attorney Campbell filed his initial response on March 27, 2017. During the course of the Board’s investigation, Ms. Albano and Attorney Campbell were afforded respective opportunities for rebuttal and supplemental responses, resulting in a fully developed investigation, pursuant to M. Bar R. 2(b)(2) & 13(b). Ms. Albano’s complaint concerned Attorney Campbell’s failure to properly monitor the handling of $525.00, the amount of “past due condo dues,” that Ms. Albano asserted had been incorrectly assessed against her by the Sawyer Brook Condominium Association and withheld in escrow in connection with the sale of property located at 214 North Street #5, in Saco, Maine on September 11, 2015. Ms. Albano’s complaint also involved Attorney Campbell’s failure to reply to her inquiries and requests concerning the delay of that $525.00 being timely paid to her.

At that condominium sale in September of 2015, Attorney Campbell had served as counsel for Phenix Title Services that represented Summit Funding, Inc. in the financing of that transaction. At the closing, Ms. Albano discovered that $525.00 in condominium dues had been deducted from the sale proceeds to be paid to her. She did not believe this deduction was appropriate because she did not believe that she owed the past dues. However, to allow the closing to still then properly proceed, the parties agreed to have Attorney Campbell hold this amount of disputed dues in escrow. Delays then ensued, with Ms. Albano receiving various reports from Phenix, including a report from Attorney Campbell’s Assistant that the escrowed funds had been inadvertently “released” by Phenix Title Services to the condominium association. Attorney Campbell subsequently failed to respond to several inquiries made to him by Ms. Albano.

As a result of Attorney Campbell’s lack of response, Ms. Albano filed an action against Attorney Campbell in small claims court in December of 2016. On January 24, 2017 – two days before the small claims hearing – Attorney Campbell then paid Ms. Albano that full amount of $525.00.

Throughout his response to this grievance, Attorney Campbell has acknowledged that “through inadvertence” Phenix’s accounting department had incorrectly disbursed the $525.00 in funds to the condominium association. He has also agreed that it was only after Ms. Albano filed her small claims suit, more than a full year after that closing date, that he then settled that court action and finally paid Ms. Albano that $525.00 fee.

Attorney Campbell agrees and admits that his actions in this matter constituted professional misconduct in his failure to have proper professional conduct safeguards in place to prevent Phenix’s improper release of Ms. Albano’s funds. Attorney Campbell further admits and agrees that his failure to respond to Ms. Albano’s questions and inquiries as to the status of the $525.00 owed to her was also improper conduct by him. At that hearing, Attorneys Johnson and Campbell each confirmed to the Panel that as a result of Ms. Albano’s complaint Attorney Campbell has made significant improvements to the Phenix Title Services’ office and its case management system. For example, Phenix has hired two additional internal staff people for the Portland office, including one who is assisting in title examinations, which Attorney Campbell had been doing by himself. Phenix is in the process of hiring an additional new attorney to assist in all aspects of the practice, including taking on some of the work Attorney Campbell had been performing. The escrow practice at Phenix has changed. Now, rather than staff writing and holding physical checks in the file marked ESCROW, Phenix has implemented a new procedure pursuant to which no check for escrowed funds gets written in advance of confirmation that it is properly scheduled to be remitted to the payee, and no escrowed funds are released without specific management approval. As a result, there is strict oversight of escrowed funds and more of Attorney Campbell’s time has been freed up for office management and staff oversight.

Attorney Campbell admits that his misconduct in this matter violated M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.1(competence); 1.3(diligence); and 5.3(responsibilities regarding nonlawyer assistants).

CONCLUSION AND SANCTION

The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically requires attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Pursuant to M. Bar R. 13(e)(8), the Panel has been informed that Attorney Campbell has no prior public disciplinary sanction record, but he did receive two minor private non-disciplinary warning sanctions in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The Panel further notes and appreciates that Attorney Campbell has been contrite and taken responsibility for his transgressions in this matter. At the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Campbell expressed his remorse to Ms. Albano and to the Panel for his violations of the above-cited portions of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. 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. Since the evidence supports a finding and Attorney Campbell agrees that he did in fact violate the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Panel has analyzed the proper sanction factors warranted under M. Bar R. 21. As a result, the Panel finds that an Admonition is the appropriate sanction to be issued upon Attorney Campbell under the parameters of M. Bar R. 21(b)(1),(c).

Accordingly, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Campbell’s separately executed waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that due to Attorney Campbell’s above-outlined misconduct, the appropriate disposition of this case is an Admonition to Matthew E. Campbell, Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 13(e)(10)(B) and 21(b)(1)

Date: October 13, 2017


Robert S. Hark, Esq., Panel Chair
Justin D. LeBlanc, Esq., Panel Member
Richard P. Dana, CPA, Public Member