Board of Overseers of the Bar v. Joseph R. Hunt, Esq.
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Docket No.: BAR-02-03
Issued by: Single Justice, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Date: May 14, 2002
Respondent: Joseph R. Hunt, Esq.
Bar Number: 002926
Order: Suspended Suspension
Disposition/Conduct: Conduct During Representation: Neglect
This matter came before the Court on May 10, 2002. Pursuant to M. Bar R. 7.1(e), disciplinary proceedings occurred before the Grievance Commission on November 19, 2001. As a result, the Grievance Commission found probable cause for these court proceedings to be initiated. The Board of Overseers of the Bar (the Board) was represented by Bar Counsel J. Scott Davis. The complainant, Kathleen Mundell, was present. Defendant Joseph R. Hunt, Esq. was present with his attorney, Richard W. Hall, Esq.
The parties have stipulated to the following material facts:
Mr. Hunt was admitted to practice in Maine in 1984 and has been practicing in Bangor, Maine since that time.
On or about October 9, 2000 Kathleen Mundell of Blue Hill, Maine met for an office visit with Mr. Hunt and then retained him to pursue a correction to her child support amount and a change in the visitation schedule contained within her earlier divorce decree. That meeting lasted for approximately one hour and included Hunt's review of what would need to occur, including sending an initial letter to Mundell's former spouse, Laurence Rizzio. They also discussed possible motions to modify and/or enforce the child support arrearage amount. They then agreed that Mr. Hunt would prepare and send a letter to Rizzio.
On that date, at Hunt's request, Ms. Mundell paid a $250.00 retainer fee. After that initial meeting date of October 9, 2000, Mr. Hunt made no further contact either verbally or by letter with Ms. Mundell, and also failed to answer or respond to Ms. Mundell's repeated telephone calls to him. By letter of November 28, 2000 Ms. Mundell wrote to Mr. Hunt requesting a refund of the $250.00 retainer fee based upon his neglect of her legal matter. He never responded to that letter.
Although Mr. Hunt claims to have "worked at drafting it" he never did actually produce or send any such letter for Ms. Mundell. He also made no attempts to advise Ms. Mundell that he was rethinking his strategy or approach as to whether any letter at all should be sent to Mr. Rizzio. He made no attempts to inform Ms. Mundell that his earlier estimate of a week or two weeks to perform legal services had changed to a longer time period.
Conclusions of Law
The parties have stipulated and the Court finds that Mr. Hunt's misconduct was neglectful and in violation of M. Bar R. 3.6(a) (3) (a lawyer must employ reasonable care and skill and apply the lawyer's best judgment in the performance of professional services. A lawyer shall be punctual in all professional commitments. A lawyer shall take reasonable measures to keep the client informed on the status of the client's affairs. A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to the lawyer).
Mr. Hunt was disciplined by the Court in 1991 for neglect of a client and then received a suspended suspension for 90 days with a very informal supervisory arrangement as approved by the Court's Order of March 6, 1995. Since that time, Mr. Hunt has sustained no further discipline. From the facts of this case and his general practice habits, Mr. Hunt agrees that he needs assistance in the management of his law practice.
Accordingly, the Court HEREBY ORDERS that Joseph R. Hunt be and hereby is suspended from the practice of law in Maine for a period of sixty (60) days, that suspension being suspended for one year commencing June 1, 2002 subject to the following terms and conditions:
On or before May 28, 2002, the parties will stipulate to an attorney being appointed by the Court to serve as the Monitor for Mr. Hunt for a period of one year commencing June 1, 2002, unless terminated earlier as herein provided or by other order of this Court;
During the period of supervision, the Monitor shall receive monthly written reports from Mr. Hunt concerning the current status of matters in which he has been retained to act as counsel;
The Monitor is a volunteer who shall receive no compensation and who shall be expected to incur no expense;
Mr. Hunt will meet with the Monitor within twenty-five (25) days of the date of this Order and thereafter at the call and convenience of the Monitor on a monthly basis, unless the Monitor should determine more frequent meetings are appropriate;
The Monitor shall have the right to withdraw and terminate that service at any time for any reason the monitor deems sufficient, including for reasons set forth in Paragraph 6 below. In the event of a withdrawal, the Monitor shall notify the Court and Bar Counsel, and Mr. Hunt shall then cooperate to obtain the services of an alternate Monitor to complete the remainder of the original Monitor's term;
If any aspect of the monitoring procedure creates a situation which is, or might be interpreted to be a conflict of interest under the Maine Bar Rules (for example, if Mr. Hunt is or becomes opposing counsel concerning a matter involving the Monitor), then the Monitor may adopt anyone of the following courses with the proposed result:
- The Monitor shall cease to act as such and a potential conflict is avoided;
- The Monitor shall continue as Monitor but totally exclude Mr. Hunt's client and matter in question from the monitoring process, so that no conflict is deemed to exist;
- The Monitor shall continue as Monitor, and obligate her/his firm to withdraw from the conflicting matter; or
- The Monitor shall continue as Monitor, and obligate Mr. Hunt not to participate in the matter and to obtain new counsel for his client (s).
- If in the Monitor's judgment it is appropriate, the Monitor shall have the right to contact clerks of court, judges, or opposing counsel to determine the accuracy of Mr. Hunt's reports to him;
- The Monitor shall have no contact with any of Mr. Hunt's clients and her/his only contact in the performance of the Monitor's duties shall be with Mr. Hunt or other persons contemplated by this Order. The Monitor's participation in the monitoring of Mr. Hunt's practice shall be deemed not to create an attorney-client relationship between the Monitor and Mr. Hunt or between the Monitor and Mr. Hunt's clients;
- The Monitor shall file a confidential report with the Court on or before July 1, 2002 and quarterly thereafter or sooner if the Monitor deems it necessary, with copies to Mr. Hunt and Bar Counsel concerning any professional assistance the Monitor has provided to Mr. Hunt;
- The Monitor will have the duty to report to Bar Counsel and to the Court any apparent or actual professional misconduct by Mr. Hunt of which the Monitor becomes aware or any lack of cooperation by Mr. Hunt in the performance of this Order;
- In the event a grievance complaint is received by Bar Counsel concerning alleged misconduct by Mr. Hunt occurring on this date or thereafter, such complaint shall be processed under either Bar Rule 7.1(c) or 7.1(d), as appropriate. In the event a preliminary review panel finds probable cause of misconduct under Bar Rule 7.1(d) (5), the matter shall then be filed directly before this Court under Bar Rule 7.2(b);
- Any apparent violation of the conditions of this Order by Mr. Hunt shall be filed by Bar Counsel directly with the Court;
- On or before July 10, 2002, Mr. Hunt shall refund $125.00 to Kathleen Mundell, in care of Bar Counsel, via certified bank check or money order;
- On or before June 10, 2002, Mr. Hunt shall arrange and make an appointment to be evaluated by Dr. Stanley Evans, or by an alternate addictionologist acceptable to Bar Counsel; and
- Mr. Hunt shall follow strict compliance with all aftercare requirements and recommendations that may be made for him, by Dr. Evans or other addictionologist(s) as a result of that initial or any later evaluation(s).
For the Court
Hon. Howard H. Dana, Jr., Associate Justice – Maine Supreme Judicial Court