Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Richard L. Rhoda, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF-09-409
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: February 24, 2011
Respondent: Richard L. Rhoda, Esq.
Bar Number: 000124
Order: Dismissal with Warning
Disposition/Conduct: Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice; Communication
STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL F OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(2)(4)
On February 24, 2011 with due notice, Panel F of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Richard L. Rhoda, 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 July 14, 2010.
At the hearing, Attorney Rhoda was represented by Malcolm L. Lyons, Esq. and the Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Aria Eee. Complainant Michael Charm of Caribou, Maine attended the hearing and addressed the Panel regarding the parties’ proposed resolution of this matter.
Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted a proposed, stipulated sanction Report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s consideration.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent Richard L. Rhoda, Esq. of Houlton, 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. Attorney Rhoda was admitted to the Maine Bar in April 1974 is registered as an active Maine attorney and maintains a solo practice in Houlton, Maine.
On November 11, 2009, Michael A. Charm (Charm) and his mother filed a complaint (which she signed on his behalf) concerning Rhoda’s representation of Charm in criminal cases then pending in the Aroostook County Superior Court. In that complaint Charm described his upset and frustration with Rhoda’s handling of his cases and his failure to provide Charm with some of the discovery documents related to those criminal charges.
By way of background, in 2002 Charm had retained different counsel for his initial charges. That lawyer was unable to appear at Charm’s arraignment and by October 2002, Rhoda had accepted the case and obtained former counsel’s file. Several years later in 2009, Charm returned to Maine and Rhoda renewed his defense of Charm on the criminal charges.
Rhoda agrees that following the August 20, 2009 court appearance with Charm he should have immediately provided his client with all of the discovery documents as instructed by the trial justice. Although Rhoda asserts that he adequately reviewed the charges and attendant consequences of a plea, Charm maintains that Rhoda did not thoroughly explain the theory of accomplice liability thus enabling him to understand the severity of the charges. Rhoda acknowledges that the discovery concerns and the failed communication were distressing to Charm. Notwithstanding his client’s obvious upset and request for new counsel (which the court denied) Rhoda continued to negotiate with the District Attorney’s Office on Charm’s behalf and he ultimately secured a favorable proposed sentence for Charm.
Thereafter, by the time new counsel was appointed on November 30, 2009, Charm conceded his satisfaction with the plea deal previously secured by Rhoda. Charm had also written an earlier letter to Rhoda (after the September 30, 2009 court appearance) describing his agreement with the proposed plea and expressing his gratitude for Rhoda’s work in obtaining the favorable proposed sentence. Successor counsel who subsequently met with Charm and Rhoda has confirmed that Charm continued to express upset about the delayed discovery but ultimately appreciated the result of his cases. Later in that meeting, Charm remarked that he wished he had not filed the grievance as he did not have all the facts at the time of its filing. At that time, he reported his desire to withdraw the complaint against Rhoda.
Charm’s 2009 letter only became known to Bar Counsel and this Grievance Commission Panel as the parties prepared for trial of this matter. The Panel notes that it was not provided to Bar Counsel’s office during its investigation of the grievance matter.
Despite his appreciation for the results obtained by Rhoda, Charm is clear that Rhoda never forwarded him a full package of discovery -- information which Charm deemed critical to his ability to make decisions about his cases. Rhoda does not dispute that fact and he accepts responsibility for failing to immediately follow the trial justice’s directive in that regard. His failure to do so constituted a violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). Rhoda recognizes that from his client’s viewpoint their communication failed to ensure that Charm felt comfortable proceeding in his criminal cases. To that end, Rhoda acknowledges his violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.4 (a)(4),(b) (communication).
The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Due to Rhoda’s above-outlined failures, Charm experienced unnecessary stress and anguish. The Panel notes that Rhoda has taken responsibility for his lapses and at the disciplinary hearing Attorney Rhoda apologized to Mr. Charm for his violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. 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. Based upon the above-outlined facts, the evidence supports a finding that Rhoda engaged in minor misconduct, resulting in minimal injury to Charm with little likelihood of repetition by Rhoda. Rhoda agrees that he did in fact violate the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, and he accepts the Panel’s warning to refrain from failing to fully inform his future clients.
Therefore, the Panel1 accepts the agreement of the parties, including Rhoda’s separately executed waiver of the right to file an Objection to the Warning, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Dismissal with a Warning to Richard L. Rhoda, Esq. which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(B), (4).
For the Grievance Commission
James A. McKenna III, Esq., Acting Panel Chair
Norman A. Ross
1 Pursuant to M. Bar Rule 7(b)(6), the stipulated hearing proceeded with a Panel comprised of two members, one of whom was a layperson.