STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE

Joan M. Conlon, Complainant  vs. Richard W. Gifford, Respondent

Grievance Complaint #97-0737

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, 300 Grand Street, Waterbury, Connecticut on September 3, 1998. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on March 12, 1998, and the probable cause determination filed by the Hartford/New Britain Judicial District, Geographical Areas 12, 15, 16 & 17 Grievance Panel on April 14, 1998, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on July 23, 1998. The Respondent appeared and gave testimony. The Complainant, who resides in Florida, advised that she would be unable to attend the hearing. An exhibit was received into evidence.

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

The Complainant contacted the Respondent in June of 1997 to pursue a class action suit against John Dempsey Hospital for submitting fraudulent charges to Medicare. The Complainant provided the Respondent with documents in support of her claim. Thereafter, by letter dated July 1, 1997, the Respondent agreed to represent the Complainant in the matter and provided the Complainant with a written contingency fee agreement, which the Complainant signed and returned to the Respondent. The Complainant was, thereafter, unable to communicate with the Respondent. The Complainant wrote a letter to the Respondent on September 24, 1997, and left messages for the Respondent on October 17, 1997, December 1, 1997 and December 28, 1997. The Complainant wrote a second letter to the Respondent on January 15, 1998. The Respondent failed to return any of the Complainant's telephone calls or respond to her letters. The Complainant's daughter, who resides in Connecticut, also attempted to communicate with the Respondent. The Respondent, however, never returned any of the Complainant's daughter's telephone calls.

The committee also considered the following evidence:

The Respondent maintained that he encountered two problems during his investigation of the Complainant's claim, preventing him from immediately commencing a lawsuit on the Complainant's behalf. The Respondent testified, however, that he never advised the Complainant of the difficulties he was encountering with her claim. The Respondent also acknowledged that he did not respond to the Complainant's telephone calls or letters. The Respondent maintained that he did not communicate with the Complainant because he had not determined if or how the Complainant's claim could be pursued. The Respondent stated that upon receipt of the grievance complaint, he forwarded the Complainant a copy of the file and in his answer to the complaint advised that he would not be filing an action on the Complainant's behalf.

This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in ethical misconduct in connection with his representation of the Complainant in this matter. The Respondent's failure to respond to the Complainant's numerous letters and telephone calls from July of 1997 until March of 1998, when this grievance complaint was filed, constitutes a violation of his duty to adequately communicate with his client. The record clearly reflects that the Respondent failed to keep the Complainant reasonably informed regarding the status of her case and failed to promptly comply with the Complainant's reasonable requests for information regarding her case, in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Accordingly, this reviewing committee reprimands the Respondent for violating Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

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Attorney Katherine Webster-O'Keefe

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Attorney Frederick W. Krug

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Mr. Carmen Donnarumma