Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Peter H. Stewart
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Docket No.: GCF#14-575
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: November 3, 2015
Respondent: Peter H. Stewart
Bar Number: 002320
Disposition/Conduct: Disciplinary proceedings: other provisions, Bar admission and disciplinary matters
M. Bar R. 13(e)(7)(D)
On November 3, 2015, with due notice, Panel D of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 13(e)(7)(D) concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Peter H. Stewart. The disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on August 31, 2015.
At the November 3, 2015 hearing, the Board was represented by Deputy Bar Counsel Aria Eee and Mr. Stewart appeared pro se. Prior to the hearing, the parties had submitted the stipulated, proposed sanction Report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration. Having reviewed the agreed proposed findings as presented by the parties, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent Peter H. Stewart of Portland, Maine, was at all times relevant hereto, an attorney duly admitted to and engaging in the practice of law in the State of Maine. As such, Mr. Stewart was subject to the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC). Mr. Stewart was admitted to the Maine Bar in 1980 and is currently administratively suspended from the practice of law. He works in a non-law related capacity outside the State of Maine, and has not been in active practice in several years. Mr. Stewart acknowledges that in this instance, he failed to comply with the Bar Rules and neglected to respond to the Board’s attempts to reach him.
As referenced above, effective October 30, 2014, the Board administratively suspended Mr. Stewart based upon his failure to comply with the annual registration and continuing legal education requirements mandated by (then applicable) M. Bar R. 6(a) and 12(a), respectively. Following that administrative suspension, Bar Counsel sent a December 29, 2014 reminder letter requesting that Mr. Stewart file the mandatory notice affidavit, as required by (then applicable) Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2).
Due to Mr. Stewart’s inaction, Bar Counsel initiated the docketing of a sua sponte grievance complaint concerning Stewart’s failure to file the notice affidavit subsequent to his administrative suspension. Mr. Stewart did not respond to the grievance complaint. His failure in that regard was a violation of MRPC 8.1(b). As well, based upon Mr. Stewart’s failure to file the notice affidavit, his conduct violated then applicable Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2)(A)(B).
Currently, Mr. Stewart remains administratively suspended from practice in Maine. He has recently filed the Notice Affidavit as now required by Maine Bar Rule 4(k)(8).
The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their duties to clients and the courts. Of some import, no clients complained about Mr. Stewart and he has been out of the practice of law for several years. In fact, Mr. Stewart’s entire career was as a public servant and thus he never had any private clients or practice to close. Although the above-outlined conduct amounts to violations of those Rules, the Panel notes that the purpose of bar disciplinary proceedings is not punishment, but rather the protection of the public. According to the ABA “Annotated Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions,” various factors should be assessed prior to imposing sanctions upon an attorney. Those factors include whether certain duties were violated, the lawyer’s mental state, the actual or potential injury caused by the lawyer’s misconduct, and the existence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
The first consideration under the ABA Standards is to evaluate the duty that was breached by the attorney. Mr. Stewart violated his duties as an officer of the court by failing to file the Affidavit required by then applicable Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i)(2). That Rule required such Affidavit filing within 30 days of Mr. Stewart’s suspension from the practice of law. Mr. Stewart was also required to respond to Bar Counsel’s subsequent inquiries about the lack of Affidavit filing. See ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, 1991 (ABA Standards). See also (former) M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(3)(B) and MRPC 8.1(b).
In mitigation, the Panel notes that the Board’s regulation history reflects that Mr. Stewart has no prior disciplinary record. At the stipulated hearing, Mr. Stewart explained that his work out of state and his failure to thereafter attend to his professional responsibilities resulted in his unintended Rule violations. At the hearing, he expressed regret for having neglected to follow through on his duties as an officer of the court.
In sum, the evidence of misconduct supports the Panel’s findings, and Mr. Stewart agrees he did in fact violate the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the Panel agrees that the misconduct is minor; that there is little or no injury to a client, the public, the legal system, or the profession; and that there is little likelihood of repetition by Mr. Stewart. Accordingly, the Panel concludes that an admonition is a proper sanction to impose upon Mr. Stewart.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is the issuance of an admonition, which is now hereby issued and imposed upon Peter H. Stewart pursuant to M. Bar R. 13(e)(10)(B).
Date: November 3, 2015
Mary A. Denison, Esq., Panel Chair
Teresa M. Cloutier, Esq., Panel Member
Emilie van Eeghen, Public Member