Glenda W. O’Neill, Complainant vs. Lawrence Dalaker, Respondent

Grievance Complaint #98-0657


Pursuant to Practice Book 2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 235 Church Street, New Haven, Connecticut on June 2, 1999. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on February 10, 1999, and the probable cause determination filed by the Fairfield Judicial District Grievance Panel on April 7, 1999, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.3, 1.4(a), and 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and Practice Book Section 2-32(a)(1).

Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainant and to the Respondent on April 22, 1999. The Complainant and the Respondent appeared and were heard by the reviewing committee. Both the Complainant and the Respondent waived the participation of Attorney Thomas Cloutier on the reviewing committee, and therefore this decision is rendered by Attorney Margaret Mason and Mr. Marcus McCraven.

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

The Complainant retained the Respondent in March of 1998 regarding a dissolution of marriage action. The Complainant paid the Respondent a retainer of $1,250.00 and gave the Respondent financial information. The Respondent missed an initial hearing date in August of 1998, but told the Complainant that he could get the case back on track. The Respondent never copied the Complainant on the letters he sent on her behalf. In November of 1998, the Respondent told the Complainant that there would be a hearing before a special master on December 15, 1998, but called the Complainant on December 14, 1998 and told the Complainant that the hearing was canceled. Other than these communications, the Respondent failed to return the Complainant’s telephone calls throughout November and December of 1998.

In January of 1999, the Complainant retained new counsel and requested the return of her file back from the Respondent. The Respondent did not respond. Through the efforts of her new counsel, the Complainant discovered that her case had been dismissed on September 10, 1998, and that the Respondent had recently filed an untimely motion to reopen the dismissal. The Respondent never informed the Complainant of this information regarding the status of her case. The Respondent had not returned the Complainant’s file as of the date of the hearing. The Respondent never filed a response to the grievance complaint.

The committee also considered the following:

In his testimony, the Respondent did not take issue with the allegations of the grievance complaint. He apologized to the Complainant, and stated that he was having problems both in his personal life and with this office staff during this period. He testified that he did not inform the Complainant of the dismissal because he believed that it would be a simple matter to get it reopened. The Respondent stated that he will refund the retainer amount to the Complainant by June 10, 1999.

This reviewing committee concludes that there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent breached his ethical obligations to the Complainant. He failed to diligently pursue the matter by allowing it to be dismissed and by not timely moving to have the dismissal opened, in violation of Rule 1.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He failed to inform the Complainant of the dismissal, and failed to adequately respond to her attempts to contact him, in violation of Rule 1.4(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He failed to timely return the Complainant’s file, in violation of Rule 1.16(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent also violated Practice Book Section 2-32(a)(1) by not timely responding to the grievance complaint. In light of the foregoing, the committee orders that the Respondent be reprimanded, and further orders, as a condition of the reprimand, that the Respondent comply with his promise to make restitution of the retainer to the Complainant.

Attorney Margaret P. Mason

Mr. Marcus R. McCraven