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Bar News - March 19, 2010

NH Supreme Court Professional Conduct Committee

Boehm, Lenora E. advs. Kimberly Frederickson # 08-055

Summary of Six Month Suspension
With Three Months Stayed with Conditions For Two Years
(effective April 1, 2010)

On January 19, 2010, the Professional Conduct Committee deliberated this complaint against Lenora F. Boehm, Esquire, and issued a six month suspension with three months stayed for two years, with the stayed three months not to be imposed if the Respondent meets certain conditions during that two year period. The parties stipulated to the facts, and rule violations of Rule 8.1(b): Failure to Cooperate, and 8.4(a): Misconduct. The parties also stipulated that Ms. Boehm would pay all costs of the investigation and prosecution of this matter.

Kimberly Frederickson filed a complaint with the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) against Ms. Boehm, alleging misconduct stemming from Ms. Boehmís representation of her ex-husband. The matter was docketed and Ms. Boehm was asked to respond to a letter dated December 11, 2008, from the ADO, to which Ms. Boehm did not respond. The ADO sent a second letter on January 13, 2009, and the Complaint Screening Committee sent a third letter on February 13, 2009, informing her that the complaint was being referred to Disciplinary Counsel for further action on both the failure to respond to a disciplinary authority and on the merits of the complaint. Ms. Boehm took no action until she filed her answer on July 13, 2009.

Ms. Boehmís failure to respond to the ADOís correspondence represents a knowing failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority, a violation of N.H. Supreme Court Rule 37A(II)(a)(5)(C). In view of the seriousness of Ms. Boehmís misconduct and her prior recent and lengthy disciplinary record, it is the Committeeís view that the public can be protected, public confidence in the Bar can be maintained, and the integrity of the legal profession can be preserved only through Ms. Boehmís suspension with conditions.

This matter is of public record, and available for inspection at the New Hampshire Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, New Hampshire 03301.

February 17, 2010

Ritzo, Joseph A. advs. Alexander Columbus # 07-052

(Effective March 1, 2010)

On January 19, 2010, the Professional Conduct Committee issued a Six Month Suspension with Conditions to Joseph A. Ritzo, Esquire, for violations of NH Rules Prof. Conduct 1.15(a), 5.3(b), 8.4(a), 8.4(b), and 8.4(c). The parties stipulated to the facts, violations, sanction, and that Mr. Ritzo would pay all costs of the investigation and prosecution of this matter.

Alexander Columbus and his wife hired Mr. Ritzo in February 2005, in connection with a personal injury claim. Consistent with usual office practice at the time, the Columbuses were advised that a Power of Attorney ("POA") would be held in their file and available for use if the Columbuses indicated their desire at some later time to have a document executed on their behalf. A POA document was partially executed. No witness signature or specimen signature of Mr. Ritzo was entered at that time. A paralegal assistant ("paralegal") was assigned to handle the Columbus claim file. The paralegal submitted check and funds transfer requisitions to Mr. Ritzoís bookkeeper, and handled disbursements to clients, service providers, and lien holders, at times without the necessary back up.

By letter dated October 17, 2006, the insurance company confirmed a settlement. In anticipation of closing on the settlement, the paralegal entered her signature on the witness line of the POA that had been signed by Mr. and Mrs. Columbus in February 2005, as well as Mr. Ritzoís specimen signature. Following her usual office practice, the paralegal entered what purported to be the signatures of Mr. and Mrs. Columbus on the Release. Mr. Ritzo approved of his paralegalís practice in this regard.

On May 24, 2007, the paralegal sent a letter to Mr. Columbus with a check for what purported to be Mr. Columbusís net recovery from the settlement, and a copy of the settlement statement. Mr. Columbus called the paralegal to question some of the deductions reflected in the settlement statement. Mr. Columbus received an unsatisfactory response, and independently determined that approximately $2,400 had been improperly deducted from his net recovery of the settlement proceeds.

Mr. Columbus filed a small claims action in Auburn District Court on July 31, 2007. The paralegal intercepted the mail from the Court and undertook to handle the claim on behalf of Mr. Ritzo, without notifying Mr. Ritzo. The paralegal also filed a letter of defense to the claim on August 30, 2007, using what purported to be Mr. Ritzoís signature. She also used personal funds to make partial restitution to Mr. Columbus in the amount of $1,425.

The paralegal also intercepted correspondence from the Attorney Discipline Office ("ADO") enclosing Mr. Columbusís September 7, 2007, complaint against Mr. Ritzo. The paralegal prepared and filed the response on behalf of Mr. Ritzo dated November 26, 2007, without informing Mr. Ritzo or the ADO of her action. The paralegal signed the response letter using what purported to be Mr. Ritzoís signature. Mr. Ritzo has since been apprised of Mr. Columbusís complaint and made restitution of funds wrongfully taken from Mr. Columbusís settlement.

Also in 2007, Mr. Ritzo learned that, in 2005, his paralegal had fraudulently obtained credit in his name and negotiated unauthorized charges. She was terminated in 2008, when Mr. Ritzo learned of other misconduct relating to client accounts.

The violations to the Rules of Professional Conduct are summarized as follows:
  • Mr. Ritzo breached his duty to safeguard settlement funds received on behalf of Mr. Columbus and other clients by failing to conduct monthly client trust account reconciliations pertaining to such funds from 2005 to 2008.
  • Mr. Ritzo breached his duty to promptly deliver funds that Mr. Columbus was entitled to receive by allowing false expense and lien amounts to be charged against the proceeds of settlement of claims, thereby improperly reducing the net settlement disbursement.
  • Having direct supervisory authority over his paralegal, Mr. Ritzo was required to make reasonable efforts to ensure that her conduct was compatible with Mr. Ritzoís professional obligations as a lawyer. He failed to do so.
  • Mr. Ritzo acknowledged responsibility for his paralegalís conduct, and, after learning that she had stolen from him, failed: a) to terminate or to limit her job responsibilities and/or to exercise extra care in supervising and reviewing her work, and b) to ensure that his bookkeeper consistently imposed appropriate requirements for approving check requests.
  • Mr. Ritzo acknowledged that he knew of and approved the improper measures employed by his paralegal to close this and other settlements; that he failed to take remedial action; and that, pursuant to Rule 5.3(c), he is directly responsible for such improper conduct and the consequences thereof.
This matter is of public record, and available for inspection at the New Hampshire Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, New Hampshire 03301.

February 17, 2010

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