Board of Overseers of the Bar v. J. William Batten, Esq.
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Docket No.: 11-143
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: May 1, 2012
Respondent: J. William Batten, Esq.
Bar Number: 000282
Order: Dismissal with Warning
Disposition/Conduct: Failure to be more diligent and communicative with a client, in violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.3 and 1.4
STIPULATED REPORT OF FINDINGS AND ORDER OF PANEL D OF THE GRIEVANCE COMMISSION M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(2)(4)
On May 1, 2012, with due notice, Panel D of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning alleged misconduct by the Respondent, J. William Batten, 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 January 19, 2012.
At the hearing, Attorney Batten was represented by Attorney Phillip E. Johnson, and the Board was represented by Assistant Bar Counsel Aria Eee. Prior to the hearing date, the parties had submitted a stipulated report of findings and order for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration. Although Complainant Mark J. Pantermoller (Pantermoller) of Fairfield, Maine did not attend the hearing, Assistant Bar Counsel Eee had previously mailed a copy of the proposed report to him.
Having reviewed the agreed proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent J. William Batten, Esq. (Batten) of Waterville, 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 and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorney Batten was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1973 and he is currently engaged in private practice in Waterville, Maine.
On April 27, 2011 Pantermoller filed a grievance complaint against Batten. In his complaint, Pantermoller alleged that Batten neglected his legal matter and failed to respond to Pantermoller’s inquiries regarding that matter. In his responses to the grievance, Batten acknowledged that in May 2009 he did meet with Pantermoller related to a potential insurance claim. At that meeting, Batten agreed to review Pantermoller’s documents, conduct research and notify him whether he had a case.
At the time, Batten believed he was investigating the potential claim and had not yet accepted Pantermoller as an actual client. It is clear, however, that Pantermoller reasonably believed that he was Batten’s client and that an attorney/client relationship had been created. Batten now agrees and regrets that he failed to properly clarify to Pantermoller whether or not legal representation by Batten had commenced and that he delayed too long in conducting the research and completing his analysis. Despite Pantermoller’s subsequent inquiries, Batten agrees he also failed to timely or adequately respond to him. Approximately eighteen (18) months later, Batten informed Pantermoller that he was unable to assist or take action related to Pantermoller’s potential claim. Batten acknowledges that except for that initial review and some limited research, he took no concrete action concerning Pantermoller’s insurance claim.
The Panel notes, however, that Pantermoller apparently suffered no injury and the statute of limitations on any potential underlying legal action remains intact. These findings are consistent with the evidence adduced during a small claims proceeding initiated in January 20121 by Pantermoller in the Maine District Court. After an April 6, 2012 contested testimonial hearing, the court issued a Notice of Small Claims Judgment against Plaintiff Pantermoller and finding for Defendant Batten. The Panel also notes that after he terminated his relationship with Batten, Pantermoller secured the services of a new lawyer who is representing him in connection with the insurance claim.
Batten acknowledges that he should have much earlier informed Pantermoller what was occurring in the research and review of his legal matter. Batten accepts full responsibility for his delay and lack of communication concerning Pantermoller’s legal matter, and he has expressed appropriate remorse for creating distress and upset to Pantermoller. Batten acknowledges that his failure to be more diligent and communicative with Pantermoller was a violation of M. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.3 and 1.4.
The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically requires attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Due to Attorney Batten’s above-outlined failures, Mr. Pantermoller experienced unnecessary delay and frustration in an already difficult and upsetting legal matter. The Panel notes that Batten has taken responsibility for his lapses and at the disciplinary hearing he apologized to Mr. Pantermoller for his actions.
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. See M. Bar. R. 2(a). Based upon the above-outlined facts, the evidence supports a finding that Batten engaged in minor misconduct, resulting in little to no injury to Pantermoller with little likelihood of repetition by Batten. See M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(B). Batten acknowledges that his conduct was inconsistent with his obligations under Rules 1.3 and1.4 of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, and he accepts the Panel’s warning to refrain from failing to fully and more timely communicate his actions and intentions concerning matters involving future definite and/or potential clients.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Batten’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 J. William Batten, Esq. That warning is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(B),(4).
For the Grievance Commission
William B. Baghdoyan, Esq., Chair
James A. McKenna, Esq.
John R. Hutchins
1This hearing panel notes that the preliminary review panel’s hearing authorization in this matter under M. Bar R. 7.1(d) occurred on September 19, 2011, well before Pantermoller’s small claims litigation had been filed, heard or decided.