Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Jon A. Languet, Esq.
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Docket No.: GCF 08-295
Issued by: Grievance Commission
Date: July 28, 2009
Respondent: Jon A. Languet, Esq.
Bar Number: 004236
Disposition/Conduct: Conduct Unworthy of an Attorney; Conflict of Interest: When Lawyer May Be Called as Witness; Withdrawal from Employment
Stipulated Report of Findings M. Bar R. 7.1(e)(2)(4)
On July 28, 2009, with due notice, Panel E of the Grievance Commission conducted a public disciplinary hearing pursuant to Maine Bar Rule 7.1(e)(2)(E), concerning misconduct by the Respondent, Jon A. Languet, Esq. This disciplinary proceeding had been commenced by the filing of a stipulated Disciplinary Petition by the Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) on March 31, 2009.
At the hearing, Attorney Languet appeared pro se, and the Board was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. Prior to the disciplinary proceeding, the parties had submitted a stipulated, proposed sanction Report for the Grievance Commission Panel's review and consideration. The complainant, Judge Valerie Stanfill, did not participate in the Stipulated Hearing but had previously received a copy of the Proposed Report and informed Bar Counsel that she did not object to the issuance of such a Report.
Having reviewed the agreed, proposed findings as presented by counsel, the Panel now makes the following disposition:
Respondent Jon A. Languet (Languet) of Topsham, County of Sagadahoc, State of 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. Attorney Languet was admitted to the Maine Bar in December 2007 and he is currently registered as an active Maine attorney.
On August 12, 2008, Farmington District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill filed a Grievance Complaint against Languet. The court's Complaint included a copy of its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law dated August 11, 2008 in the matter of Kenneth Burek v. Belgrade Concrete Cutting, Inc. Docket No. FARDC-CV-06-110. By incorporation of those Findings and Conclusions, the court's Complaint claimed Languet had violated the Code of Professional Responsibility by his continued representation of his client (a closely held corporation in which he was the sole shareholder), despite the fact that he intended to testify at the trial of that underlying litigation.
By way of background information, Languet's corporation, Belgrade Concrete Cutting, Inc. (BCC) became the defendant in civil litigation regarding a concrete cutting project that it had performed. Languet was a key participant in the dispute, having had discussions with the plaintiff regarding the work to be performed. A friend and fellow attorney represented BCC during the early stages of litigation. Languet assisted that attorney in a lesser capacity until Languet was admitted to the Maine Bar in January 2008. At that point, Languet took over as lead counsel in the litigation. Languet subsequently filed all of the pre-trial submissions, including ones that listed himself as the only witness for the defendant corporation, BCC. While Languet discussed this conflict with co-counsel, he failed to ever seek assistance from an experienced trial attorney not connected to the litigation.
It is clear that Languet failed to timely analyze the conflict question inherent in his remaining as lead counsel while also appearing as a witness in the litigation. Judge Stanfill brought the obvious conflict to Languet's attention and proposed two options for him: to either represent the corporation and therefore not testify; or to withdraw and then testify as BCC's lead witness. Even after Languet exercised his option to remain as BCC's counsel, he failed to appreciate the purpose behind M. Bar R. 3.4(g)(1)(i). Specifically, in his initial response to Bar Counsel concerning the court's Complaint against him, he still claimed that various exceptions to Bar Rule 3.4(g)(1)(i) applied and therefore he did not really have a conflict under that Bar Rule. In addition, he appealed the District Court's judgment in favor of the Plaintiff to the Law Court claiming the court had committed judicial error in refusing to allow Languet to testify during his representation of BCC. Languet's appeal resulted in the Law Court's Memorandum of Decision dated March 24, 2009 affirming the District Court's judgment. In hindsight, Languet now agrees that the exceptions in Bar Rule 3.4(g)(1)(i) did not apply to his handling of the BCC litigation and that Judge Stanfill made the proper findings and conclusions concerning his improper trial conduct.
As a result, Languet's failure to appropriately appreciate and resolve the conflict related to his actions in BCC's litigation constituted his violation of M. Bar R. 3.1(a), 3.4(g)(1)(i), and 3.5(b)(1). Upon further reflection, Languet has now accepted and expressed his understanding and regret for those violations by him.
Conclusion and Sanction
The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically requires attorneys to uphold their responsibilities to clients and the courts. As a result of Attorney Languet's actions, his corporation was unable to present a defense in its litigation, and as such was prejudiced in the underlying litigation. Attorney Languet failed to take affirmative steps to resolve the serious conflict issue with which he was presented. A review of all of the circumstances leads this Panel to find that Attorney Languet violated M. Bar R. 3.1(a), 3.4(g)(1)(i), and 3.5(b)(1).
The Panel notes that Attorney Languet has taken responsibility for his transgressions. At the disciplinary hearing, Attorney Languet expressed his remorse for his violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The Panel notes that the injury his client suffered was, in fact, injury only to Attorney Languet, as he is the sole shareholder in BCC. The Panel also expects that there is little likelihood of repetition of such misconduct by Languet.
M. Bar R. 2(a) provides 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, or likely to be unable, to discharge properly their professional duties. Since the evidence supports a finding and Attorney Languet agrees that he did, in fact, violate the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Panel finds that a public reprimand serves those purposes.
Therefore, the Panel accepts the agreement of the parties, including Attorney Languet's waiver of the right to file a Petition for Review, and concludes that the appropriate disposition of this case is a Public Reprimand of Attorney Jon A. Languet which is now hereby issued and imposed upon him pursuant to M. Bar R.7.1(e)(3)(C), (4).
For the Grievance Commission
Victoria Powers, Esq., Chair
James A. McKenna III, Esq.
Joseph R. Reisert Ph.D.