Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Ronald L. Bishop, Esq.
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Docket No.: BAR-00-6
Issued by: Single Justice, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Date: February 7, 2001
Respondent: Ronald L. Bishop, Esq.
Bar Number: 000886
Disposition/Conduct: Illegal Conduct; Conduct Involving Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit, or Misrepresentation; Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice
Disciplinary Decision and Order
This matter came before the Court on February 7, 2001 pursuant to an information filed by the Board of Overseers of the Bar. The Board was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. The complainant, Bonnie Kerns, was present. Defendant Ronald L. Bishop, Esq. was present and appeared pro se.
The parties have stipulated and agreed to the following material facts:
On or about April 12, 1997 Bonnie Kerns (Kerns) was involved in an automobile accident in Turner, Maine. As a result, a personal injury action was filed in the Androscoggin County Superior Court in the matter of Ernest Charity, Jean Charity & Bonnie Kerns v. Robert Chiasson, Docket CV-97-266. Kerns hired Bishop to handle that matter for her, and he was also counsel for Kerns' husband, Mark Kerns, and for her parents, Ernest and Jean Charity, in that same action.
On October 26, 1998 that action was settled, with Chiasson agreeing to pay Kerns $30,000.00. From that amount, Bishop knew that Kerns had a medical payable balance totaling at least $9,266.34. He took an attorney fee of $5, 183.42, and the balance then received by Kerns from Bishop was the amount of $15,550.24.
It was agreed and understood between Kerns and Bishop that he would make payments of Kerns’ entire outstanding medical bills. In fact, Bishop neglected those payments and failed to make timely payment of many of Kerns' medical bills.
As a result, in June 1999 Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) directly notified Kerns that she had an outstanding medical balance of $3,109.70. That nonpayment was a complete surprise to Kerns since from his earlier comments she had understood and believed that Bishop had already made all such payments from her settlement monies. Approximately six weeks later, on July 14, 1999, Bishop finally paid CMMC that outstanding balance of $3,109.70, and also then paid $508.00 to Otolaryngology Associates. More than a year after the settlement check had been received by Bishop, i.e., as of February 25, 2000, medical bills for Kerns totaling approximately $1,051.00 still remained outstanding and unpaid by Bishop. With respect to those amounts outstanding in February, 2000, Kerns made at least two telephone calls to Bishop, which he failed to return. As late as March 1, 2000, Kerns received an additional call from a collection agency concerning outstanding amounts.
From the documents provided by Bishop in response to Bar Counsel's amended subpoena duces tecum, and as exemplified by Bishop's dilatory and grossly belated payment of Kerns' medical bills, he neglected his obligations to Kerns and also failed to properly segregate and account for clients' funds in his client escrow account. Bishop also failed to deliver to Kerns a balance of $3,317.64 (plus interest) owed her from the $30,000.00 settlement check.
The parties agree and the Court so finds that Bishop's conduct violated Maine Bar Rules M. Bar R. 3.2(f)(2)(3)(4); 3.6(a)(2)(3) and 3.6(e)(1)(2).
Having found these violations of the Maine Bar Rules, and agreeing with the Board and the Defendant that they are serious, the Court must now consider an appropriate sanction. In that regard, Bishop has admitted and acknowledged that he mishandled Kerns' case. Bishop was earlier reprimanded in 1999 for neglectful conduct concerning another client. That Grievance Commission Panel's Report stated that a sanction of suspension would be "appropriate if there were a recurrence of this kind of (neglectful) complaint" by Bishop. Therefore, keeping in mind that the main purpose of attorney discipline is not punishment, but protection of the public, the Court hereby ORDERS the following sanction in this matter as proposed by the parties:
Ronald L. Bishop, Esq. is suspended from the practice of law in Maine for one-year, with all but 90 days of that suspension being suspended, to commence on June 1, 2001;
By June 1, 2001, Bishop will have complied with the notification and filing requirements of Maine Bar Rule 7.3(i);
On or before April 2, 2001, Bishop shall reimburse Kerns the remaining balance from her settlement check of $3,317.64, plus $525.80 interest, totaling $3,843.44;
Starting upon Bishop's return to practice on September 3, 2001, his practice shall be mentored through May 31, 2002 in the following manner:
- There shall be a Court-approved plan for professional supervision of Bishop's law practice by an attorney mentor in order to avoid neglect of any client's affairs; and
- Commencing on or before September 3, 2001, a certified public accountant (CPA) shall supervise and review Bishop’s financial records on a monthly basis. Such review shall include the ledger cards, journals, and other documentation for Bishop’s law firm client trust account, including but not limited to the journals and the bank statements relating to that client trust account. In addition, such reviews shall also include the operating account and payroll account journals and related bank statements. That CPA shall issue a report to Bar Counsel within ten days from the date such records are posted each month confirming that any and all funds advanced by clients to Bishop’s law firm, whether for costs, fees, or distribution, are being properly maintained in the client trust account and that no commingling of funds from any accounts has occurred, and that all bills are paid; and
- On or before May 15, 2001 the parties shall provide the Court with the supervision plan required by paragraph 4(i) and verification that the agreed upon respective designated attorney and accountant mentors have been selected and will so serve.
For the Court
Hon. Donald G. Alexander, Associate Justice – Maine Supreme Judicial Court