Denise L. Sawicki, Complainant vs. Christine Lederer, Respondent

Grievance Complaint #01-0235


Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 95 Washington Street, Hartford, Connecticut on May 2, 2002.  The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on September 17, 2001, and the probable cause determination filed by the Tolland Judicial District Grievance Panel on February 4, 2002, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.5, 1.16 and 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1). 

Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on March 27, 2002.  At the hearing on May 2, 2002, the Complainant appeared and testified before this reviewing committee. The Respondent did not appear. Reviewing committee member Mr. Edward J. Sodlosky, III was unavailable for the hearing.  At the time, the transcript was received and the scheduling of deliberations commenced, Mr. Sodolosky was not an active member of the reviewing committee. A copy of the record including the transcript of the May 2, 2002 hearing was forwarded to Ms. Mary Ellen Smith, for review prior to participation in the decision.

This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:

In March of 1999, the Complainant paid the Respondent a $2,040.00 retainer to initiate divorce proceedings.  Thereafter, in July of 1999, the Complainant notified the Respondent that she had reconciled with her husband and requested a return of the retainer.  Despite telephone communications, and correspondence to the Respondent, and the Respondent’s assurances that a refund was forthcoming, the Respondent failed to refund the Complainant’s retainer.  The Respondent did not file an answer to the grievance complaint.

At the hearing before this reviewing committee, the Complainant reaffirmed the allegations in the complaint. 

This reviewing committee finds the following violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by clear and convincing evidence:

The Respondent’s $2,040.00 fee was unreasonable in violation of Rule 1.5(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  The Respondent provided minimal, if any, legal services in connection with the Complainant’s divorce proceedings.  The Respondent failed to return the unearned portion of the retainer upon termination of her representation by the Complainant in violation of Rules 1.16(d) and 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  The Respondent failed to file an answer to the grievance complaint in violation of Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).  Since we conclude that the Respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, we reprimand the Respondent and pursuant to Practice Book §2-37(a)(6), order the Respondent to submit to fee arbitration within three months of the issuance of this decision.  The Respondent is further ordered to provide written confirmation of her compliance with this condition to the Office of the Statewide Bar Counsel within thirty days of such submission to fee arbitration.

Attorney David Curry

Attorney Kathleen Stingle

Ms.  Mary Ellen Smith