Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Peter Todd Travis, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF#14-504 & 14-512
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: April 8, 2016
Respondent: Peter Todd Travis, Esq.
Bar Number: 005280
Disposition/Conduct: Competence, Scope of Representation, Diligence, Communication, Fees, Safekeeping Property, Declining or Terminating Representation
M. Bar R. 13(e)(7)(D)
On April 8, 2016, with due notice, Panel C of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 13(e)(7)(D), concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Peter Todd Travis, Esq. The Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) commenced this disciplinary proceeding by its May 5, 2015 filing of a formal Disciplinary Petition.
At the hearing, Attorney Travis (appeared telephonically) but was represented by his counsel, Walter McKee, Esq. The Board was represented by Deputy Bar Counsel Aria Eee. Complainant Erin Maher lives out of state and thus did not attend the hearing. Complainant John Nickols also lives out of state and likewise did not attend; however, Bar Counsel provided both complainants with a copy of the proposed order in advance of the hearing. Just prior to that date, the parties negotiated a stipulated, proposed sanction Report for the Grievance Commission Panel’s review and consideration.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel makes the following disposition:
Respondent Peter Todd Travis, Esq. (Travis) of Minnesota was during all times relevant hereto an attorney duly admitted to and engaging in the practice of law in the State of Maine. As such, Travis is subject to the Maine Bar Rules and the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Travis was admitted to the Maine Bar in 2013.
On November 1, 2014, John M. Nickols (Nickols) filed a complaint against Attorney Travis. Simultaneous with that filing, Nickols also filed a claim against Travis with the Trustees of the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection (LFCP). According to those filings, in August 2014, Nickols contacted Travis regarding representation in tax matters arising for the years 2009-2013. Travis agreed to represent Nickols and sent him an August 27, 2014 engagement agreement, quoting an hourly rate of $200.00. Travis’ stated fee was $3,500.00. On September 2, 2014, Nickols sent Travis a check for that amount which Travis then deposited in his IOLTA account at the Bank of Maine on September 16, 2014. Thereafter, Travis relocated his office out of state with no notice to Nickols.
In that regard, Travis violated MPRC 1.4, when he failed to consult with Nickols, and failed to keep Nickols reasonably informed of the status of his legal matter, his intended move out of state and the closure of his law office. Travis also failed to undertake reasonable steps to protect Nickols’ interests upon termination of the representation, as is required by MRPC 1.16. Travis did not return the client file or the unearned retainer balance to Mr. Nickols before closing his Maine practice. As a consequence, the LFCP Trustees approved Nickols’ claim matter and reimbursed him for the fee paid to Travis, due to the above-outlined misconduct.
Through his misconduct, Attorney Travis caused delay in Nickols’ legal matters which was a serious concern to his former client.
Meanwhile, in November 2014, Erin M. Maher filed a complaint concerning Travis’ representation of her in a partition action and related probate matter. Maher paid Travis an initial $4,500.00 advanced fee for the representation.
According to Maher, between June and October 15, 2014, Travis misinformed her about the status of the probate matter. While he reported having worked on that matter, Travis had not done so by the time of his September 2014 departure from Maine. Subsequent to his move, Travis ended all communication with Maher. He did not return her file or advanced fees when he ended the representation. He did not respond to Maher’s phone calls, voicemails, emails, or text messages. Maher ultimately discovered that Travis’ Brunswick phone had been disconnected and he was no longer practicing at that office.
On October 31, 2014, opposing counsel was forced to request court relief (in the Superior Court) because he had been unable to contact Travis regarding the Maher matters. Thereafter, Maher’s successor counsel sought and was granted a continuance in order to attempt preparation for the contested hearing, without having access to Maher’s client file.
Through his neglect of Maher’s legal matter, Travis violated various provisions of the MPRC, including Rules 1.1 [competence]; 1.2 [scope of representation]; 1.3 [diligence] and 1.4 [communication]. The delays resulting from his actions could have had significant consequences for Maher, as she was not properly represented and unknowingly missed critical deadlines (mediation) and related opportunities to engage in settlement discussions. In further violation of MRPC 1.4, Attorney Travis failed to keep Maher reasonably informed of his then impending move out of state, and his termination of representation. He did not provide Maher with any notice of termination, nor did he take reasonable steps to protect her interests as required by MRPC 1.16. According to Maher, Travis is still in possession of her client file. In addition, upon termination, Travis did not return the unearned fee balance before closing his practice. In doing so, Travis violated MPRC 1.5(a) by collecting an excessive fee, when minimal legal services were actually provided. However, due to Maher’s Fee Arbitration filing, that dispute has since been settled, with Travis having issued an April 2015 refund check to Maher.
Moreover, despite the mandate to safeguard client property, Attorney Travis left behind approximately four (4) boxes of client information in the Brunswick office building which he had formerly rented. Additionally, according to the landlord of that building, client mail continued to arrive at the defunct law office. Travis did not make adequate provisions to return that property to clients or their agents, in violation of M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.15 (b)(2)(iv); and 1.15(f). Following retrieval of the client property, Bar Counsel and its Assistants were successful in locating at least one client and the family of another (deceased) client to inform them of the availability of their files. Upon inquiry, the former clients reported that they were unaware of the closing of Travis’s office, which constituted further violations of MRPC 1.4 [communication].
Additionally, MRPC 1.3 requires that a sole practitioner designate a proxy should that practitioner become disabled, missing, or deceased. A review of Travis’ 2015 Registration Statement shows that his office operated as a solo practice yet he failed to complete Question (3) in violation of the professional conduct rules.
Despite the opportunity to do so, Travis failed to respond to either Ms. Maher’s or Mr. Nickols’ complaint matters. Following his receipt of notice that the Grievance Commission Review Panel had directed the complaint matters for disciplinary hearings, Travis did make contact with the Board and acknowledged his errors regarding the Nickols and Maher matters. As a result, in June 2015, Travis and the Board negotiated a proposed stipulated resolution on the complaint matters.
On July 23, 2015, a Panel of the Grievance Commission was scheduled to conduct a stipulated hearing on the disciplinary action. Complainants Erin Maher and John Nickols each live out of state and thus were not able to personally attend the stipulated hearing. Travis was also residing out of state and intended to appear telephonically. However, Travis apparently did not accurately calendar the time for his disciplinary hearing and thus did not appear for the hearing. Later that same day, Travis emailed Bar Counsel to explain his absence.
The Grievance Commission Panel conducted a non-testimonial hearing on July 23, 2015 and subsequently issued a Report and Decision rejecting the parties’ stipulated proposal.
Following the July 2015 brief hearing, Bar Counsel filed formal disciplinary charges against Travis, who through counsel, timely answered the Petition. Although the matter initially was contested, due to additional information since received by Bar Counsel and exchanged by the parties, they have re-negotiated a stipulated proposal for the Commission’s consideration and action. Having reviewed and deliberated on the pleadings, the above findings of misconduct and Attorney Travis’ acceptance of responsibility for his handling of these client matters, the Panel accepts the parties’ proposed resolution.
The Maine Rules of Professional Conduct specifically require attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. Due to Attorney Travis’ actions, clients were left unprotected and uninformed. Attorney Travis’ treatment of them and his neglect of their respective legal matters was unfair and unprofessional. The Panel notes that at the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Travis accepted responsibility for his disregard for these clients. He expressed his remorse for the serious violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Additionally, as referenced above, in April 2015 Travis subsequently reimbursed the clients and the Lawyer’s Fund (LFCP) for the amounts owed to Nickols and Maher. He also has returned to Bar Counsel an uncashed check he received on behalf of another client.
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 Attorney Travis agrees that he did in fact violate various provisions of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Panel finds that a public reprimand serves those purposes.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Travis’ separately executed waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Reprimand to Peter Todd Travis, Esq. That sanction is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R. 13(e)(10)(C). In addition, should Attorney Travis return to Maine for the practice of law, such practice shall be subject to the agreed-upon Monitoring conditions as set forth below:
- Sixty (60) days prior to his resumption practice in Maine, Attorney Travis shall give notice to Bar Counsel and any attorney then representing him. Following such notice, the parties shall attempt to select an agreed-upon Maine attorney to monitor Travis’s practice in Maine.
- Attorney Travis shall meet with the Monitor at scheduled times, consistent with the Monitor’s directives. The meetings shall initially occur on a monthly basis, unless the Monitor subsequently determines that more or less frequent meetings are appropriate.
- Any costs or fees associated with the Monitor’s service shall be borne by Attorney Travis. This monitoring provision is intended to conclude following twelve months of such supervision.
- Within thirty (30) days of returning to practice in Maine, Attorney Travis shall meet with the Maine Assistance Program for Lawyers and Judges (MAP) and remain in compliance with any contract he executes unless the MAP Director discharges him from the program.
- In the event of said discharge, Attorney Travis or his counsel shall notify the Monitor and Bar Counsel.
- Attorney Travis and the Monitor shall develop a “probation plan” which includes but is not limited to the Monitor’s review of Travis’ office practice and procedures.
- Attorney Travis acknowledges that the Monitor shall have the right to withdraw and terminate his/her probationary services at any time for any reason he/she deems necessary. If the Monitor intends to do so, he/she shall notify Bar Counsel, Attorney Travis and his counsel, Attorney Walter McKee, of such withdrawal. Thereafter, this matter may then be scheduled for further hearing as deemed appropriate by a Grievance Commission Panel or the Court.
- If any aspect of the probationary process creates a situation, which is, or might be interpreted to be a conflict of interest under the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, the Monitor may adopt any one of the following courses with the proposed result:
- The Monitor ceases to act as probation attorney and a potential conflict is avoided.
- The Monitor continues as the probation attorney, but totally excludes Attorney Travis’s client’s matter from the process, so that no conflict is deemed to exist.
- The Monitor continues as probation attorney, but withdraws from the conflicted matter.
- The Monitor continues as probation attorney and obligates Attorney Travis not to participate in the matter and to promptly refer his/her client to successor counsel or the Lawyer Referral Service.
- The Monitor shall have the right to contact clerks of court, judges, or opposing counsel to monitor Attorney Travis’s compliance with his professional obligations.
- Likewise, if the Monitor determines that Attorney Travis should refrain from accepting particular cases or otherwise expanding his practice, the Monitor shall inform Attorney Travis of that fact. Attorney Travis shall then follow the Monitor’s directive to refrain or limit his acceptance of such cases, absent Bar Counsel’s, the Grievance Commission’s (or the Court’s) order to the contrary.
- The Monitor shall initiate no contact with any of Attorney Travis’s clients. The Monitor’s communications in the performance of his/her duties shall be with Attorney Travis, Bar Counsel, Attorney McKee and other persons referenced above. However, if any clients of Attorney Travis make contact with the Monitor (with concerns about Attorney Travis) those clients should be referred to Bar Counsel’s office.
- The Monitor’s probation and monitoring of Attorney Travis’s practice shall not be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship between Attorney Travis and the Monitor or between the Monitor and Attorney Travis’s clients. Specifically, the Monitor shall be deemed not to represent Attorney Travis or any of Attorney Travis’s clients or to be employed by them in any capacity and the Monitor shall not have any responsibility of any nature to any of those clients. Moreover, the attorney-client privilege shall not apply to the Monitor’s supervision of Attorney Travis’s practice, and the Monitor shall be immune from any civil liability to Attorney Travis or any of Attorney Travis’s clients.
- The Monitor shall have the authority to review and examine any of Attorney Travis’s files, except those in which the Monitor might have adverse interests under paragraph 5. In that event, the Monitor shall notify Bar Counsel who may then develop an alternative means of file review.
- Attorney Travis shall prepare and present to the Monitor two weeks in advance of their first meeting a list of all his current clients, showing each pending client’s matter with a brief summary and calendar of the status thereof. For all subsequent meetings, Attorney Travis shall prepare and present that information to the Monitor at least one week in advance of the meeting.
- Within ninety (90) days, Attorney Travis with the assistance of the Monitor shall establish a method of objectively identifying any delinquent client matters or other matters which have proven challenging for Attorney Travis to manage. Within this time period Attorney Travis shall also establish and institute internal checks and controls to make his practice appropriately responsible to the needs of his clients and to the courts.
- The Monitor shall file a confidential report with Bar Counsel every four months or sooner if he/she deems it necessary. The Report shall be copied to counsel for Attorney Travis and shall cover at least the following subjects:
- measures Attorney Travis has taken to avoid problematic interactions with his clients, opposing counsel/litigants and any others related to his practice of law.
- a description of any client matter identified as delinquent or problematic;
- any professional assistance the Monitor has provided to Attorney Travis.
- The Monitor shall have the duty to report to Bar Counsel any apparent or actual professional misconduct by Attorney Travis of which he/she becomes aware. Likewise, the Monitor shall report to Bar Counsel any lack of cooperation by Attorney Travis with the terms of this Decision.
The terms of this Report of Findings are effective upon the date of entry on the Grievance Commission’s docket.
Date: April 8, 2016
Robert S. Hark, Esq., Panel Chair
Justin D. LeBlanc, Esq., Panel Member
Richard P. Dana, CPA, Public Member