Board of Overseers of the Bar v. James P. Boone
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Docket No.: BAR-01-05
Issued by: Single Justice, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Date: May 14, 2002
Respondent: James P. Bonne
Bar Number: 002443
Findings, Conclusions and Order
This matter is before the Court on information by the Board of Overseers of the Bar, upon recommendation of a panel of the Grievance Commission, seeking discipline of Attorney James P. Boone. M. Bar. R. 7.2(b). The information was filed with the Court and duly served upon Mr. Boone. Mr. Boone did not file a timely response to the information, and the Board of Overseers has filed a motion for default judgment.
The pending matters were heard on May 6, 2002. At that time, counsel for the Board and Mr. Boone appeared. Based on the discussion with Bar Counsel and Mr. Boone at the hearing, it appears that the factual allegations asserted by Bar Counsel are largely undisputed except that it is agreed that issues regarding Mr. Boone's obligation towards Patrons Oxford Insurance Company have been resolved with payment acceptable to Patrons Oxford.
With this matter resolved, the only issue in dispute at hearing related to the appropriate sanction, with Bar Counsel urging disbarment and Mr. Boone urging an indefinite suspension.
The facts relative to the Court's determination in this proceeding are as follows:
Mr. Boone was admitted to practice approximately twenty years ago and, until 1999, maintained an active litigation practice in York County. Prior to this proceeding, Mr. Boone had not been subject to any bar disciplinary action.
In late 1996, Mr. Boone undertook to represent David Robert Mailhiot and Mailhiot's finance, Leslie Perkins in their respective bankruptcy matters. For this legal representation, Mr. Boone was paid approximately $1,600.
Mr. Boone took no action on the Mailhiot and Lewis matters for more than a year, while telling them that such matters take time.
During this same time, a severe illness of Mr. Boone's wife caused him to close his office and work out of his home and then to cease his practice entirely.
Eventually, sometime in 1998 or 1999, Mr. Boone relocated to a residence in Dixmont, Maine where he is required to spend substantial amount of time caring for his disabled wife. In addition, Mr. Boone performs some carpentry work, but no legal work, out of this residence.
Mr. Boone closed his practice and relocated to Dixmont without notifying Mr. Mailhiot and Ms. Lewis of his actions.
Mr. Mailhiot then took the bankruptcy issue into his own hands and worked out a payment arrangement.
Some of the fees which Mr. Boone originally charged have been reimbursed. However, on March 7, 2002, a fee arbitration panel ordered that Mr. Boone repay Mr. Mailhiot the remaining $675 owed as a result of Mr. Boone's taking a fee and then performing no work.
The Board of Overseers disciplinary action was initiated as a result t of a complaint by Mr. Mailhiot in the fall of 2001. After hearing before a Grievance Commission, the matter was referred to this Court for disciplinary action.
On October 25, 2001, Mr. Boone was suspended from the practice of law as a result of his failure to register with the Board of Overseers and pay the annual fee required by the Board of Overseers for continuation of practice in the State of Maine, M. Bar. R. 6(b) and 10(b).
Mr. Boone has not sought and does not plan to seek reinstatement at the present time or in the near future.
Based on Mr. Boone's actions in: (i) agreeing to undertake representation of clients; (ii) accepting fees from clients for the representation; (iii) failing to perform any of the requested legal work for the clients; (iv) misleading the clients with regard to the status of the work; (v) abandoning his practice without notice to the clients; (vi) failing to keep the clients' funds for the representation secure in a trust account; and (vii) failing to repay the clients after he had abandoned them without doing any work, the Court concludes that Mr. Boone has violated Bar Disciplinary Rules 3.1(a); 3.2(f)(3)(4); 3.3(a); 3.5(a)(2); 3.6(a)(2)(3); 3.6(e)(2)(ii); and 3.7(e)(l)(i).
Mr. Boone's conduct in undertaking to provide legal representation and then abandoning his clients is seriously inappropriate for a lawyer. His conduct in misleading his clients as to the status of their case and in failing to repay funds he took from them and for which he did no work is dishonest.
In considering the appropriate sanction, the Court recognizes that the misconduct found here is serious misconduct. However, it is apparently the only bar disciplinary action against Mr. Boone in a twenty year active litigation practice. Further Mr. Boone's misconduct did not result from desire for personal gain, did not result in any serious prejudice to his clients and, so far as appears from the record, is not part of a pattern of widespread misconduct affecting other clients. Instead, Mr. Boone's motivations in abandoning his practice largely focused on his desire to provide necessary full-time aid to a seriously ill spouse. Mr. Boone has come forward and acknowledged his errors in judgment and, at the present time, recognizes that his personal situation makes it unlikely that he will soon return to practice. In this circumstances, with the mitigating factors of Mr. Boone's conduct having been motivated by a desire to aid a seriously ill spouse and of his accepting responsibility for his misconduct and the problems it has caused and in light of his prior unblemished record in an active litigation practice, it appears that disbarment would be to severe a remedy. An indefinite suspension is, in itself, a substantial sanction. It provides continuing protection for the public from Mr. Boone while he may be indisposed to practice law and, at the same time, it can assure that Mr. Boone may only return to practice when he is desirous and able to provide full, active representation of clients.
Therefore, based on the findings and conclusions stated above, James P. Boone's present suspension from the practice of law is made indefinite. Mr. Boone may be considered for reinstatement to the practice of law only after he has:
Repaid the $675 found to be due to Mr. Mailhiot by the Fee Arbitration Panel, provided that this repayment shall occur no later than May 1, 2003.
Paid all the fees and charges due to the Board of Overseers of the Bar, the Lawyers Fund for Client Protection and any other fees which are the obligation of lawyers engaging in active practice in the State of Maine:
Demonstrated to Bar Counsel that he is capable and desirous of resuming the active practice of law and that he is capable of serving his clients promptly and with all good fidelity as required by the Bar Rules; and
Demonstrated that for the first two years of return to active practice, Mr. Boone will either be associated in practice with another active Maine attorney acceptable to Bar Counsel or have his practice monitored by a Maine attorney acceptable to Bar Counsel, to assure that Mr. Boone properly complies with his obligations to his clients, the courts, and the profession.
For the Court
Hon. Donald G. Alexander, Justice - Maine Supreme Judicial Court