Bar News - May 21, 2014
NH Supreme Court Professional Conduct Committee
In accordance with Supreme Court Rule 37(12), on March 11, 2014, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the above captioned reciprocal discipline matter from the Grievance Commission of the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar warrants the issuance of a public censure. The Court remanded the matter to the Professional Conduct Committee (“PCC”) for the issuance of this Public Censure.
In the Matter of
Jeremey A. Miller
REISSUED PUBLIC CENSURE SUMMARY
Jeremey A. Miller was admitted to the Maine Bar in 2008. Mr. Miller has his own law firm, J. Miller & Associates, PLLC in Concord, New Hampshire. On April 14, 2011, a grievance was filed against Mr. Miller who was the only New Hampshire attorney partner affiliated with Legal Helpers Debt Resolution (“LHDR”).
The complainant alleged that he had difficulty determining the extent of LHDR/ Mr. Miller’s representation in various collection matters. The complainant was unable to obtain responses to communications, failed to receive responses to discovery or orders that were unfavorable to Mr. Miller’s clients. Mr. Miller acknowledged that his role in the LHDR partnership raised concerns under M. R. Prof. Conduct 5.5(b)(1), and admitted that he neglected some of his cases. Mr. Miller’s lack of direct involvement with clients and failure to supervise an associate attorney resulted in violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Panel found that Mr. Miller’s detachment from clients was a direct result of LHDR’s practice model, however, his conduct violated M. R. Prof. Conduct 1.3 (diligence) and 1.4 (communication). In his capacity as partner of LHDR, Mr. Miller had an additional duty under M. R. Prof. Conduct 5.1 and 5.3 to ensure that subordinate lawyers and non-lawyer assistants were adequately supervised and that their conduct conformed to the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. Mr. Miller had the same obligations with respect to the lawyers and staff of his own law firm. He failed to fulfill those obligations and, accordingly, some clients were harmed. The Panel issued a Reprimand to Mr. Miller and cautioned him to carefully assess potential associations with other law firms, particularly in regard to the use of non-lawyer assistants and subcontractors.
Due to Mr. Miller’s failures, some of his clients were not properly served by his representation. Mr. Miller agreed that he violated the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct. The Panel found that a Reprimand in GCF N. 11-130, properly served the purposes of Bar disciplinary proceedings, to protect the public from attorneys who, by their conduct, have demonstrated that they are unable to properly discharge their professional duties. Mr. Miller’s failures violated Maine Bar Rules 1.3, 1.4, 5.1 and 5.3.
The Professional Conduct Committee deliberated the matter on February 18, 2014, and recommended to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that for purposes of reciprocal discipline, a public censure is the equivalent to a public reprimand imposed by the State of Maine Grievance Commission, Board of Overseers. The Court has determined, as defined by Rule 37, that a public censure is “substantially similar” discipline in New Hampshire as the public reprimand ordered by Maine. Accordingly, the Committee issues a Public Censure to Jeremey A. Miller in reciprocal discipline, and all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of this matter. The matter is public record and available for inspection at the Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, NH 03301.
April 21, 2014
Williams, Finis E., III advs. Attorney Discipline Office #12-008
The Professional Conduct Committee (the “Committee”) heard oral argument and deliberated the matter on February 18, 2014, and issued a Public Censure to Finis E. Williams, III, (the “Respondent”) on March 25, 2014 for violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(f) and (g).
REISSUED PUBLIC CENSURE SUMMARY
The Respondent was admitted to practice in New Hampshire in 1985. The underlying matter involved Ossipee Bluffs Association (“OBA”), who filed a nuisance lawsuit against the Respondent’s client, for constructing two unauthorized breakwaters in Lake Ossipee, to the detriment of OBA. The Carroll County Superior Court found that the construction of the breakwaters constituted a nuisance and ordered Respondent’s client to pay for remediation.
The Committee found the following facts, among others, by clear and convincing evidence.
• January 7, 2010: The Carroll County Superior Court appointed Respondent as escrow agent for funds in which OBA had an interest. He had a fiduciary responsibility to OBA in addition to his professional responsibility as a lawyer to his client. On August 25, 2010, Plaintiffs’ counsel moved to transfer the escrow funds to himself for the benefit of OBA, alerting the court to Respondent’s May 11, 2010 payment to himself.
• August 31, 2010: Respondent disbursed $2,981.14 from the escrow account to himself for legal fees.
• September 7, 2010: The September order clarified the Respondent’s obligation to pay for the permit application process, including legal fees.
• September 10, 2010: Plaintiff’s counsel submitted an invoice for his legal fees of $3,580.00 to the Respondent. Respondent contested this invoice. The court ordered the Respondent pay this amount forthwith.
• September 16, 2010: Respondent sought clarification that he is still entitled to comply with the subordination agreement and the court was not issuing an order that Plaintiff is barred from paying own fees in connection with this case. On September 30, 2010, the court denied the motion.
• September 18, 2012: Respondent did not pay, at that time, the $3,580.00 to Plaintiff’s counsel, testifying that he forgot.
• December 27, 2012: The Court ordered disgorgement of Respondent’s payments to himself after the September 2010 order. The court held that based upon Respondent’s representation it appears he had a genuine misunderstanding of the court’s orders and belief, though inaccurately, that he was entitled to withdraw funds from the escrow account for payment of his attorney’s fees and expenses.
The Committee found by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent violated Rule 1.15(f) when he did not promptly deliver funds to Plaintiff’s counsel, which counsel was entitled to receive, and did not promptly distribute to Plaintiff’s counsel that portion of the escrowed funds to which Plaintiff’s counsel’s interest was not in dispute.
The Committee found by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent violated Rule 1.15(g) by making a payment of $2,981.14 to himself from the escrow account on August 31, 2010, following the filing of an objection by the OBA on August 25, 2010, which triggered Respondent’s duty to keep the funds separate until the dispute was resolved. Additional payments to the Respondent were made on January 6, 2011, August 12, 2011 and September 12, 2011, in violation of Rule 1.15(g).
By failing to properly discharge his fiduciary obligations, Respondent violated duties owed to OBA, the legal system, and the public. Respondent should have known that there was a dispute as to OBA’s entitlement to the escrowed funds. There was actual injury to OBA. There was also injury to the public, which is entitled to have confidence in a lawyer’s fiduciary obligation as escrow agent. The baseline sanction is suspension, and after applying the aggravating and mitigating factors, the Committee issued a Public Censure for Respondent’s violations of Rule 1.15(f) and (g). Respondent shall be responsible for the expenses incurred by the Committee in the investigation and enforcement of this disciplinary matter. The matter is public record and is available at the Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, NH 03301 or at www.nhattyreg.org.
April 23, 2014