Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Frank B. Walker, Esq.

Download Decision (PDF)

Docket No.: GCF 99-42

Issued by: Grievance Commission

Date: January 19, 2000

Respondent: Frank B. Walker, Esq.

Bar Number: 000058

Order: Reprimand

Disposition/Conduct: Standards of Care and Judgment: Inadequate Preparation; Neglect


REPORT OF FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS


On December 7, 1999, Panel A of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing in accordance with Maine Bar Rule 7(e)(2), with respect to alleged professional misconduct of Respondent Frank B. Walker, as described in a Petition dated September 29, 1999, filed by Bar Counsel of the Board of Overseers of the Bar.

The Board of Overseers was represented by Geoffrey S. Welsh, Esq., Assistant Bar Counsel. Respondent Frank B. Walker, Esq. was represented by Phillip R. Foster, Esq., of the Foster Law Office.

Prior to the commencement of the hearing, the parties agreed to the admission of Board exhibits 1 through 22. During the hearing Respondent moved the admission of two exhibits labeled Defendant's exhibits 1 and 2; they were admitted without objection. The following witnesses were sworn and testified before the panel: Peter K. Dressel and Frank B. Walker, Esq.

The Petitioner contends Frank B. Walker, Esq. violated Maine Bar Rules 2(c); 3.1(a); 3.2(f)(3)(4); 3.5(a)(2); 3.6(a)(2),(3); and 3.6(e)(2)(IV) in his representation and handling of various matters for Peter K. Dressel and concerning his response to a Board inquiry.

Findings

Frank B. Walker, Esq. is an attorney who practices in Ellsworth, Maine. Peter K. Dressel is a resident of Ellsworth who at various times over a 20 year period retained Frank B. Walker, Esq. to handle legal matters. Mr. Dressel retained Mr. Walker's services to advise him in estate planning, corporate and personal legal matters. At times relevant to this complaint Mr. Dressel owned and operated a business known as Bill's Towing and Recovery. Mr. Walker also provided legal services to this business.

  1. Automobile Dealer Litigation

  2. Sometime before October of 1998 Peter Dressel purchased a used vehicle from Coldbrook Saab in Skowhegan, Maine. Mechanical problems arose with the vehicle that Dressel thought should have been covered under a used car warranty. The dealership was asked to repair these problems but declined to do so. Dressel had the repair work performed at another dealership and thought he could recover the costs of these repairs from Coldbrook. Dressel around the same time purchased floor mats for his car from Coldbrook for $189.44. Dressel did not pay for the mats, instead he thought he could work an arrangement with Coldbrook where he would get credit for the repairs performed by the other dealership and that credit would be applied to the mat purchase. Coldbrook rejected this arrangement and demanded payment from Dressel. When Dressel did not pay the dealership, Coldbrook in February 1998 filed a collection action against him in Skowhegan District Court. Dressel brought the complaint to Frank Walker, Esq. and asked that he represent him. They also discussed a Counterclaim for the warranty work. No Counterclaim was ever filed.

    Upon receipt of the Complaint Walker filed a Motion for Extension of Time to file an Answer and a week later filed a Motion to Dismiss. On June 12, 1998, the Motion to Dismiss and a motion filed by the Plaintiff were scheduled for argument in Skowhegan District Court. Frank Walker traveled from Ellsworth to Skowhegan to attend the motion argument. He met with Plaintiffs counsel on that day in Skowhegan and attempted to negotiate a settlement. No settlement was reached but both motions were withdrawn.

    On October 9, 1998, Coldbrook filed an Affidavit and Request for Default and Default Judgment. On October 29, 1998, no Answer having been filed a Default was entered. On or about April 6, 1999, Peter K. Dressel was served a Disclosure Subpoena ordering him to appear in Skowhegan District Court on May 20, 1999. Shortly thereafter Dressel met with Walker and learned that Walker never answered the Complaint and a Default Judgment had been entered against him. On April 16, 1999, Peter K. Dressel filed a formal disciplinary Complaint against Frank B. Walker, Esq. complaining about Walker's lack of attention and failure to keep him informed of the status of this case. Sometime thereafter Frank B. Walker using his own funds satisfied the Coldbrook judgment.

  1. Insurance Collection Claim

  2. In the early spring of 1998 two vehicles involved in a fatal accident were placed on the Bill's Towing and Recovery storage lot. The vehicles sat on the lot for many months. Dressel contacted Walker and sought advice on what he should do and who he should contact to collect storage fees for these vehicles. Around the same time Dressel was paid storage fees for one of the vehicles. Walker agreed to investigate the possibility of securing payment for the storage of the second vehicle. The owner of the second vehicle died in the accident. It was Walker's understanding that the estate had not been probated, a personal representative was not identified, and identifying a responsible party may be more timely than it was worth. He believed there was little chance of any recovery on this storage and shared that opinion with Dressel. Mr. Dressel on his own called the insurance company providing coverage on the vehicle and made a modest demand. The carrier paid the demand. Dressel complained that Walker wasted his time and should have expeditiously resolved this matter for him.

  1. Auto Storage Dispute

  2. As part of a criminal investigation the Maine State Police acting under the direction of the office of the Hancock County District Attorney seized a number of motor and recreational vehicles and stored them for preservation and safe-keeping at Bill's Towing and Recovery. Mr. Dressel made no arrangement with the authorities in advance or at the time of the storage for payment of storage fees. After the vehicles were stored for a considerable period of time Dressel asked Walker to help him collect storage fees from the State Police and/or the District Attorney's office. At this same time Dressel was attempting to establish a favorable working relationship with the local authorities so they would use his facility for storage and impounding vehicles. Dressel and Walker discussed placing liens on the vehicles and suing the District Attorney's office and /or the State Police. It is not clear from the record before the panel who drafted or attempted to place these liens; it is clear Walker advised against suing either the District Attorney's office and/or the State Police. The evidence shows that the liens were not properly prepared and no liens were placed on the vehicles. The evidence is unclear as to what Dressel expected from Walker. He complained that Walker did not protect his interests and this caused him great hardship.

  1. It is alleged by Bar Counsel that Frank Walker failed to timely return files to Peter K. Dressel and this failure violates the Bar Rules. The evidence is these gentlemen had a long professional relationship that began to deteriorate sometime in 1998. The evidence demonstrates Frank Walker handled a number of small legal matters for Peter K. Dressel, Mr. Dressel's wife and his business, Bill's Towing and Recovery. On April 9, 1999, Dressel requested the return of his files; two were promptly returned. A third was partially returned on the mistaken belief it had been returned in its entirety. Walker admitted at the hearing that he located the complete third file that had been "misfiled" and the misfiling had only been identified shortly before the hearing. Walker testified he would return the misfiled file to Peter Dressel on the day of the hearing.
  1. On April 26, 1999, Assistant Bar counsel wrote Frank Walker, Esq. enclosing a copy of Peter K. Dressel's multipage complaint letter and requested that by May 17, 1999, "you submit to me a written response for preliminary review by a Panel of the Grievance Commission." By letter dated May 21, 1999, Phillip R. Foster, Esq. entered an appearance on behalf of Peter K. Dressel forwarding a May 7, 1999 court order dismissing a disclosure hearing, and a three page memoranda from Frank Walker, Esq. explaining the history of his relationship with Mr. Dressel and his impressions of the Dressel complaint. Bar counsel asserts Mr. Walker’s lack of candor in this response violates the Bar Rules. The Board's initial inquiry was broadly written, seeking a general response. Walker's response was as broadly written. Bar Counsel sent a follow-up letter asking specific questions. In a letter dated July 8, 1999, a letter prepared in response to Bar Counsel's specific questions, Walker admitted his failings in the handling of the Dressel- Coldbrook Saab matter.

Conclusions and Disposition

The Board contends Frank Walker, Esq. violated a number of Bar Rules. Based on the facts recited above the Panel finds Mr. Walker violated Bar Rule 3.6 in that he did not exercise sufficient care and skill in the handling of the Coldbrook Saab matter and he failed to keep his client informed of the status of this matter. We find there is no factual or substantive basis to conclude there were violations of the Bar Rules in Frank Walker's handling of the insurance collection matter or auto storage dispute.

We find further that Bar Counsels initial inquiry invited a general response to Dressel's complaint. There was a follow-up letter seeking more specific information and specific information was provided. We conclude a broadly worded reply to a general inquiry does not violate the Bar Rules.

We find Frank Walker's failure to return the complete files to Peter Dressel in a timely manner is a Bar Rule violation.

In view of the foregoing the Panel concludes Frank Walker, Esq. is reprimanded for violating Maine Bar Rules 3.6(a)(2),(3) as established in the findings discussion in this report. A public reprimand is an appropriate disposition given the nature of the violations and circumstances surrounding them.


For the Grievance Commission

Paul H. Sighinolfi, Esq.
Rebecca A. Irving, Esq.
Andrew J. Pease, Jr.