Bar News - February 22, 2013
Leadership Changes in Attorney Discipline System
By: Kristen Senz
When it comes to attorney misconduct, Tom Trevethick has seen it all, from innocent mistakes that snowballed out of control to witness interference and convictions for heinous crimes.
ADO General Counsel Tom Trevethick gives an interview in his Concord office.
Photo by Kristen Senz
After nearly 21 years at the NH Attorney Discipline Office, Trevethick, who was actively involved in the transition to a new discipline system in 2004, will retire from his job as general counsel at the end of March. "I plan to spend more time with my family and do some traveling, and possibly do some volunteer work," Trevethick said during a recent interview.
Trevethick’s planned departure marks the latest in a string of recent staff and volunteer changes at the ADO and within the three other entities that make up the attorney discipline system — the Supreme Court Professional Conduct Committee, Complaint Screening Committee and Hearings Committee.
Having spent 16 years on the PCC, the last 10 as chair, Margaret "Meg" Nelson stepped down at the end of 2012, after reaching the term limit of three consecutive three-year terms. While she was on the committee that recommended term limits as part of the revamped system, stepping down from her post was "a little bittersweet."
"I, and the other senior members of the committee, we really like what we were doing," said Nelson, an attorney and managing director at Sulloway & Hollis. "It’s been a tremendous opportunity and honor to serve on the court’s committee."
Nelson also was part of the committee that interviewed Sara Greene, who started in November as disciplinary counsel at the ADO, the system’s version of a prosecutor.
"She had a significant practice representing attorneys involved in the disciplinary system in Arizona before she moved to New Hampshire, so she is familiar with the rules and policies that govern the system," Nelson said of Greene.
Trevethick agrees that Greene is a great fit for the job, which has seen considerable turnover in recent years. "We were just delighted to find her," he said.
The court has appointed David Rothstein, deputy chief appellate defender at NH Public Defender, to replace Nelson as chairman of the PCC. Rothstein said finding a new general counsel of the ADO, a position appointed by the court, would be an important focus of the attorney discipline system in the coming months. Other than that, he said, he intends to maintain the work of the committee to the standards set by Nelson.
"I gather that Meg has done a really great job in her tenure and that things run well," he said.
The Complaint Screening Committee also has a new chairman, Ronna Wise of Sulloway & Hollis. Wise replaces Martha Van Oot, who was appointed to the PCC. Heather Krans of the Stein Law Firm also was appointed as a new member on the PCC. The other new members of the CSC are retired Judge Peter Fauver, Frederick Coolbroth and lay member Peter Kiriakoutsos. Newly appointed Hearings Committee members are: Richard Gagliuso, Stephanie Hausman, David Ruoff, Karyl Martin and lay members James Cotsana and Jules Brayman.
Complaints Holding Steady
Over the past few years, despite the occasional shocking revelation, Trevethick says the annual number of complaints against lawyers in the state has remained relatively steady. In the summer of 2010, however, there was a spike in the number of complaints related to financial matters that required multiple forensic audits over a short period of time.
"I attribute that to the economy and what happened in 2009 and 2010," said Trevethick.
Many of the complaints received by the ADO are filed by clients who are displeased with the work of their attorneys and the outcomes of their cases but who have no grounds for alleging actual misconduct.
Trevethick said that despite the ethical infractions and misconduct he has seen over the years, the vast majority of attorneys will never have contact with his office.
"We’ve seen lawyers do everything," he said. "We deal with lawyers who are indicted and convicted of horrible crimes. We deal with lawyers who commit horrific acts of professional misconduct that are devastating to clients and clients’ lives." But, he adds, "I still have a great opinion of attorneys. I think they’re the most honest people who walk the face of the earth, because, most often, they’re concerned about their reputations and maintaining their integrity."
All decisions in attorney disciplinary matters are searchable on the ADO website. The site is a feature of the discipline system that Trevethick counts among the office’s achievements during his tenure. Anyone can search disciplinary decisions and non-disciplinary dismissals with warnings issued after Jan. 1, 2004.
Another major event during Trevethick’s time as general counsel was a comprehensive review of the state’s redeveloped attorney discipline system by a team from the American Bar Association. The ADO scheduled and managed 33 interviews with the team during one week in July 2011 and spent a significant amount of time and energy preparing documentation for the review.
"It was a lot of work over the last two years," he said.
Following a period during which the ADO and the NH Bar Association collected comments on the ABA report last year, the office and the NHBA submitted recommendations to the NH Supreme Court. In early February, the court issued its findings, adopting very few of the ABA’s original recommendations. (See related story)
"I think the report had some good insights, even though a large number of the recommendations were not accepted by either us or the court," Trevethick said.
Overall, Trevethick says, the implementation of the revamped attorney discipline system nine years ago resulted in a more efficient and effective process.
"I feel proud of how the system is working," he said, adding that it has been a delight to work with Supreme Court Justice Carol Ann Conboy, who serves as liaison to the PCC.
Prior to joining the ADO in 1992, Trevethick was in private practice at Stark and Peltonen in Manchester. He also administered feeding programs at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, before attending law school at Franklin Pierce Law Center (now UNH Law). Both his son and daughter followed in his footsteps and work in the legal field, his daughter as a lawyer in Connecticut and his son as a paralegal in Washington, DC. Trevethick, who will turn 63 this year, said he looks forward to the next phase of his life.
"I’m an avid hiker. I get out any chance I can, and I plan to do more of that," he said. "It’s time to do some things I want to do while I’m healthy."