STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE

Peter Vassiliou, Complainant v. Louis Avitabile, Respondent

Grievance Complaint #01-1005

DECISION

Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 90 Court Street, Middletown, Connecticut on October 10, 2002.  The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on May 20, 2002, and the probable cause determination filed by the Waterbury Judicial District Grievance Panel on July 29, 2002, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.4, and 8.4(3) 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 August 22, 2002.  At the hearing on October 10, 2002, the Complainant and the Respondent appeared and testified before this reviewing committee.  Attorney Louis Rubano represented the Complainant. 

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

In April of 2000, the Respondent was retained to represent the Complainant in connection with a speeding ticket.  The Respondent did not have a fee agreement with the Complainant.  The Complainant paid the Respondent $125.  Thereafter, the Complainant received a suspension notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles indicating that his license would be suspended on September 6, 2000 because he failed to appear at a scheduled court proceeding.  The Complainant gave the suspension notice to the Respondent. The Respondent assured the Complainant that he would take care of the matter, but failed to do so.  In or around September, 2001, the Complainant received correspondence from the Department of Motor Vehicles indicating that he could not renew his license because it had been suspended.  The Complainant questioned the Respondent regarding the license suspension and the Respondent indicated that he would take care of it and a restoration notice would be received by the Complainant within weeks. 

The Respondent did not answer the grievance complaint.

This reviewing committee also considered the following:

The Complainant alleged that in 1996 he hired the Respondent to represent him in a personal injury matter.  The Complainant further alleged that the Respondent failed to file a civil lawsuit prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations in connection with the personal injury matter, despite advising the Complainant that the lawsuit should be settling soon.

The Respondent testified that he refunded $65 to the Complainant of the $125 that the Complainant paid in connection with the Respondent’s representation of the Complainant regarding the speeding ticket.  The Respondent indicated that he had represented the Complainant  over a number of years in various matters.  The Respondent denied informing the Complainant that a personal injury lawsuit had been filed and that he was representing the Complainant in a personal injury matter.  The Complainant contended that the Complainant did not contact him regarding the personal injury matter until after the statute of limitations had expired.  The Respondent testified that he intended to respond to the grievance complaint but failed to do so within the thirty day response period and thereafter decided that he would respond at the hearing. 

This reviewing committee concludes that the Respondent’s conduct in connection with his representation of the Complainant regarding the speeding ticket involved a breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  The Respondent failed to diligently act on the Complainant’s motor vehicle matter in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s failure to act diligently resulted in the Complainant’s license being suspended. The Respondent failed to file a response to the grievance complaint without demonstrating good cause, in violation of Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).  Although not part of the probable cause finding, we criticize the Respondent for not having a fee agreement with the Complainant regarding the representation of the Complainant relative to the speeding ticket. We find that the record lacks clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent represented the Complainant regarding a personal injury matter and therefore we cannot conclude that the Respondent violated Rules 1.4 and 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Since we conclude that the Respondent engaged in ethical misconduct, we reprimand the Respondent and order the Respondent, pursuant to Practice Book §2-37(a)(5), to attend 3 credit hours of a continuing legal education course in legal ethics, at his own expense, within six months of the issuance of this decision.  The Respondent is further ordered to provide the Statewide Grievance Committee with written confirmation of his compliance with this condition within thirty days of completion of the continuing legal education course.

                                               
Attorney Lorraine D. Eckert

                                              
Attorney Tracie Molinaro

                                             
Ms. Mary Ellen Smith