Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Paul R. Dionne, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF #19-409
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: October 29, 2020
Respondent: Paul R. Dionne, Esq.
Bar Number: 001222
Order: Admonition Supervision
Disposition/Conduct: Diligence, Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice
M. Bar R. 13(e)(7)(D)
On October 29, 2020, with due notice, Panel E of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 13(e), concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Paul R. Dionne, Esq. The Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) commenced this proceeding by the filing of a Formal Charges Disciplinary Petition.
At the October 29, 2020 hearing, Attorney Dionne was represented by Jon S. Oxman, Esq., and the Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel, Justin W. Andrus. The Clerk provided complainant, Attorney Nora Baker, with notice of this action. She did not appear.
Prior to the scheduled hearing date, the parties notified the Grievance Commission that they had negotiated a proposed settlement of the disciplinary matter. The proposed sanction report was submitted to the Clerk for the Commissions advanced review and consideration. Assistant Bar Counsel also provided Attorney Baker with a copy of the parties proposed Stipulated Report in advance of the stipulated hearing.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Grievance Commission makes the following disposition:
Respondent Paul R. Dionne, Esq. (Attorney Dionne) has been at all times relevant hereto an attorney duly admitted to and engaging in the practice of law in Maine. As such, Dionne is subject to the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct (M.R.P.C.). Dionne was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1976 and is currently a solo practitioner in Lewiston, Me.
According to the parties stipulations, the Commission finds the following relevant facts:
On October 15, 2019, Attorney Nora Baker filed a complaint against Attorney Dionne on behalf of the Alzheimers Association. Within her complaint, Attorney Baker alleged that Dionne had contacted the Alzheimers Association in August 2014 on behalf of a trust. The Alzheimers Association was a 25% beneficiary of the trust. Attorney Baker alleged that Attorney Dionne had failed to pay the Alzheimers Association its bequest, and that Attorney Dionne had been unresponsive to communications from the Alzheimers Association, including letters and voicemail through October 2019.
The Board sought immediate confirmation from Attorney Dionne that the money due to the Alzheimers Association remained in trust for distribution. Attorney Dionne made timely reply to that request confirming that the money did remain in trust. He explained that he was waiting for an executed Authorization from the Alzheimers Association before making the distribution.
On November 4, 2019, Attorney Dionne made his full timely response to Attorney Bakers complaint. In his response, Attorney Dionne explained that in the course of preparing that document he had reviewed the Trust file and an associated file, and realized that he had received and misfiled the Authorization. He acknowledged his mistake.
Attorney Dionne paid the corpus of the bequest from the Trust to the Alzheimers Association. Through counsel, he addressed the issue of the lost opportunity caused by the delay in responding to Attorney Baker. Attorney Dionne made an additional payment to the Alzheimers Association to satisfy that lost opportunity.
Even though Dionne did not intend to withhold the bequest from the Alzheimers Association, the Commission finds that his actions constituted violations of M. R. P. C. (1.3) [diligence] and 8.4(d) [conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice].
The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Attorney Dionne agrees that he violated his duties to comply with those Rules.
The Grievance Commission notes 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. Since the evidence supports a finding and Dionne agrees that he did in fact violate the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Commission must now issue an appropriate sanction. Pursuant to M. Bar R. 13(e)(6)(8), prior to imposing a sanction, the Commission has considered the existence or absence of any prior sanction record.
The Commission relies on Maine Bar Rule 21(c) for guidance as to the proper factors to consider and apply in the issuance of an appropriate disciplinary sanction. Maine Bar Rule 21 states as follows:
(c) Factors to be Considered in Imposing Sanctions. In imposing a sanction after a finding of lawyer misconduct, the Single Justice, the Court, or the Grievance Commission panel shall consider the following factors, as enumerated in the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions:
(1) whether the lawyer has violated a duty owed to a client, to the public, to the legal system, or to the profession;
(2) whether the lawyer acted intentionally, knowingly, or negligently;
(3) the amount of the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyers misconduct; and
(4) the existence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.
In this matter, Attorney Dionne agrees that his misconduct violated duties that he owed to his client to see her wishes fulfilled, to the third-party beneficiary, and to the profession. After considering Attorney Dionnes statements arising from the hearing, the Commission does not find that he acted with the intent to harm the Alzheimers Association. Given the totality of circumstances, the Alzheimers Association suffered nominal harm that the Commission finds did not arise to the level of serious misconduct. The Commission does find that Attorney Dionne committed misconduct by failing to recognize that he had received the necessary Authorization from the Alzheimers Association, and by failing to then follow up by forwarding the bequest. The Commission expects that Attorney Dionne will learn from this lapse in office and document management and refrain from engaging in similar misconduct with his future representation of clients.
Regarding potential aggravating and mitigating factors, Attorney Dionne has received no prior discipline/sanctions, but he does have substantial experience in the practice of law. In mitigation, Attorney Dionne has admitted his misconduct, has expressed remorse for that misconduct, and has been cooperative throughout the investigation and prosecution of this matter.
Taking all of the above factors into consideration, and consistent with the analysis outlined in M. Bar R. 21(c), the Grievance Commission finds that an Admonition and supervision are appropriate sanctions to address the misconduct by Attorney Dionne. The parties shall mutually agree upon the supervision terms, but at a minimum, supervision shall continue for one year, and Attorney Dionne will consult with an agreed upon person experienced in the proper management of documents and trust accounts, and shall meet with that person a least once each month to review practice management, including communication with clients and third parties. The parties have further agreed that the supervision terms shall be maintained within Special Bar Counsels file, and he shall notify the Commission Clerk upon Attorney Dionnes successful completion of the period of supervision. With these consented-to-conditions, the Commission accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Dionnes separately executed waiver of the right to file for a Petition for Review.
Pursuant to M. Bar R. 13., the Commission hereby imposes an Admonition and one year of supervision upon Paul R. Dionne, Esq.
DATE: October 29, 2020
John J. Aromando, Esq., Panel Chair
Andre J. Hungerford, Esq., Panel Member
Margaret T. Clancey, Public Member