STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
William T. Moore, Complainant vs. Richard Lafferty, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #05-0316
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(c), the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 1061 Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut on November 2, 2005. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on March 30, 2005, and the probable cause determination filed by the New Haven Judicial District Grievance Panel for Geographical Area 7 and the towns of Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Madison and North Branford on July 8, 2005, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing also addressed the probable cause determination issued by a reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee on August 25, 2005, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rule 5.5(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Notice of the November 2, 2005 hearing was mailed to the Complainant, to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office and to the Respondent on October 4, 2005. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and testified at the hearing. This reviewing committee also heard testimony from Paula Jeanne Danzy and Attorney Frank Cannatelli. Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(d), Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Patricia A. King pursued the matter before this reviewing committee.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
In January of 2001, the Respondent was suspended from the practice of law in Connecticut and was not reinstated to practice until October 10, 2001. During the summer of 2001, the Complainant was incarcerated on various charges. His friend, Paula Jeanne Danzy, sought to retain an attorney to represent the Complainant in his criminal matters. Ms. Danzy first contacted Attorney Frank Cannatelli, but Attorney Cannatelli’s legal fee and schedule made it impossible for him to represent the Complainant and he was not retained.
Prior to the Respondent’s suspension in 2001, he and Attorney Cannatelli had shared office space, first in Branford and then in Ansonia, after Attorney Cannatelli moved his offices there to work for the Ansonia Housing Authority. Although Attorney Cannatelli did not consider himself to be a friend or a close colleague of the Respondent, he agreed to allow the Respondent to serve as a paralegal in his office while he was suspended. The Respondent was working for Attorney Cannatelli in this capacity when Ms. Danzy unsuccessfully sought to retain Attorney Cannatelli to represent the Complainant in the summer of 2001.
Shortly after Ms. Danzy and Attorney Cannatelli determined that he could not represent the Complainant, the Respondent telephoned Ms. Danzy and offered to represent the Complainant for a lower fee than that which had been quoted by Attorney Cannatelli. The Respondent told Ms. Danzy that while the representation would not cost less than $4000 it would not cost more than $5000. The Respondent further told Ms. Danzy that the Complainant’s arrest had been improper and that he could have the Complainant released from custody by Ms. Danzy’s birthday in September. However, he advised against pursuing the Complainant’s September release for strategic reasons. Ms. Danzy agreed to this strategy with the averment from the Respondent that the Complainant would be home by “the holidays.” Ms. Danzy asked if this meant Halloween and the Respondent said yes.
All of the in-person meetings between Ms. Danzy and the Respondent took place in Waterbury at either an Exxon station or at an adjacent Howard Johnson’s restaurant. At their first meeting, which occurred at the restaurant, Ms. Danzy paid the Respondent a $1000 retainer. Although quite ill at the time and on disability, Ms. Danzy thereafter made continual periodic payments to the Respondent. In all, Ms. Danzy paid the Respondent approximately $4000 to represent the Complainant.
At no time did the Respondent inform Ms. Danzy that he was suspended from the practice of law. The Respondent told Ms. Danzy that he was practicing out of his home in Branford. The Respondent also failed to inform the Complainant that he was suspended from the practice of law when he twice met with him in August of 2001 at the Whalley Avenue correctional facility in New Haven. The jail maintains a separate logbook for professional and nonprofessional visits. Professional visitors are required to show professional identification, such as a business card, in order to see inmates. The Respondent, who visited the Complainant on August 7th and August 24th was logged into the professional visits logbook.
After the August 7th visit with the Complainant, the Respondent wrote to him on August 17, 2001. The letter was prepared on the following letterhead: “Richard W. Lafferty, Esq. Attorney and Counselor at Law.” The letter stated:
Dear Mr. Moore:
We are sending you a set of the paperwork you sent to us.
We have filed four Appearances, one for each of the docket numbers listed above. The Court date set is for Thursday, August 30, 2001 in Waterbury. Rest assured, we are representing you and will be in Court with you on that date.
I plan to come and see you early next week so we can review your cases.
Yours very truly,
Richard W. Lafferty, Esq. \s\
On August 24th the Respondent visited the Complainant again. By then, the Respondent had opened a file for the Complainant and the Complainant was able to see evidence of checks and/or money orders provided to the Respondent by Ms. Danzy to pay his retainer. At that meeting, the Respondent had the Complainant sign a fee agreement. The “Agreement for Professional Services” was prepared on Attorney Cannatelli’s letterhead. Without Attorney Cannatelli’s knowledge or consent, the Respondent signed Attorney Cannatelli’s name on the agreement.
On or around August 15, 2001, Attorney Cannatelli filed his appearances in the Complainant’s criminal cases to have the August 30th hearings continued until sometime after the conclusion of the Respondent’s suspension. The Respondent filed his appearances in the Complainant’s cases on or around October 12, 2001 after he was reinstated to practice.
This reviewing committee also considered the following:
The Respondent testified that he never accepted any funds from Ms. Danzy or the Complainant until he was reinstated. He denied accepting the $1000 deposit from Ms. Danzy at their first meeting and testified that the funds were paid instead to Attorney Cannatelli. The Respondent further denied signing Attorney Cannatelli’s name on the fee agreement and testified that Attorney Cannatelli signed the “Agreement for Professional Services.” Attorney Cannatelli testified that the signature on the agreement was not his.
The Respondent testified that the August 17th letter mistakenly was prepared on his letterhead. The Respondent further testified that the handwritten title “Esq.” after his signature on the letter was due to him rushing to get the letter mailed.
We conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in serious unethical conduct. The Respondent was suspended from the practice of law from January of 2001 until October 10th of that year. During that suspension, the Respondent actively solicited Ms. Danzy to represent the Complainant, took a retainer fee from her, provided legal advice to both her and the Complainant and gave every indication, both overt and implicit, that he was able to practice law in this state. The Respondent clearly practiced law while under suspension, in violation of Rules 5.5(1) and 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
It is the decision of this reviewing committee that the Respondent be presented to the Superior Court for whatever discipline the court deems appropriate and we therefore direct the Disciplinary Counsel to file a presentment pursuant to Practice Book §§2-35(e) and 2-47(a). Moreover, because a presentment is a de novo proceeding we request that the presentment contain the following additional charges: that the Respondent failed to inform the Complainant that he was suspended from the practice of law, in violation of Rule 1.4(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct; that the Respondent’s failure to inform Ms. Danzy and the Complainant of his suspension was dishonest and/or a misrepresentation, in violation of Rule 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct; that the Respondent inappropriately accepted a fee that, in light of his suspension, was per se unreasonable, in violation of Rule 1.5(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct; that the Respondent signed Attorney Cannatelli’s name to the August 24, 2001 fee agreement without Attorney Cannatelli’s authorization or knowledge, in violation of Rule 8.4(3) and (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct; and that the Respondent lied while under oath to this reviewing committee about accepting fees while under suspension and signing Attorney Cannatelli’s name to the fee agreement, in violation of Rules 3.3(a)(1) and (4), and 8.4(3) and (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Finally, we note that Practice Book §2-35(f) provides, “[i]f the reviewing committee finds probable cause to believe that the respondent has violated the criminal law of this state, it shall report its findings to the chief state’s attorney.” First, we conclude that there is probable cause that the Respondent violated Connecticut General Statutes §53a-156, which provides, “[a] person is guilty of perjury if, in any official proceeding, he intentionally, under oath, makes a false statement, swears, affirms or testifies falsely, to a material statement which he does not believe to be true.” We conclude that there is probable cause that the Respondent’s testimony to this reviewing committee that he did not accept funds from either Ms. Danzy or the Complainant until after he was reinstated to the practice of law and his testimony that Attorney Cannatelli signed the August 24th fee agreement were intentionally false statements made while under oath.
Second, we conclude that there is probable cause that the Respondent violated Connecticut General Statutes §53a-140, which provides, “[a] person is guilty of forgery in the third degree when, with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he falsely makes, completes or alters a written instrument, or issues or possesses any written instrument which he knows to be forged.” We conclude that there is probable cause that the Respondent forged Attorney Cannatelli’s name on the August 24th fee agreement with the intent to deceive the Complainant.
Accordingly, we order that a copy of this decision and the pertinent portions of the record be provided to the chief state’s attorney’s office pursuant to Practice Book §2-35(f).
DECISION DATE: 12/2/05
Attorney Rita A. Steinberger
Attorney Randy L. Cohen
Ms. Dahlia Johnston