STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE
Robert Mugford, Sophie Mugford, Complainants vs. Martin Steinmetz, Respondent
Grievance Complaint #02-0900
Pursuant to Practice Book §2-35, the undersigned, duly-appointed reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee, conducted a hearing at the Superior Court, 1061 Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut on August 13, 2003. The hearing addressed the record of the complaint filed on March 14, 2003, and the probable cause determination filed by the Stamford/Norwalk Judicial District Grievance Panel on May 12, 2003, finding that there existed probable cause that the Respondent violated Rules 1.15(a) and (b), 4.1(1) and (2) and 8.4(1), (2) and (3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
Notice of the hearing was mailed to the Complainants and to the Respondent on July 8, 2003. The Complainants appeared and testified at the hearing. The Respondent did not appear at the hearing. Attorney Sally R. Semonite testified on behalf of the Complainants. Reviewing committee member Attorney Margarita Moore was not available for the August 13, 2003 hearing. The Complainants waived the participation of Attorney Moore in the decision of this case. Accordingly, the matter was heard and decided by the undersigned.
This reviewing committee finds the following facts by clear and convincing evidence:
In or around August of 2002, the Complainants retained the Respondent to represent them in the refinancing of their home. At the time of the refinancing, the Complainants had a first mortgage with Washington Mutual Bank to which they owed approximately $179,350. The funds for the refinancing came from Citibank, in the amount of $182,572.45. The closing occurred on September 12, 2002. On that date, the Respondent received the closing funds from Citibank and his $1900 fee from the Complainants. Thereafter, the Respondent failed to pay off the first mortgage to Washington Mutual.
In January of 2003, the Complainants received a notice of foreclosure from Washington Mutual, stating that they had not received a pay off of its mortgage following the September 12, 2002 closing. The Complainants thereafter sought the assistance of Attorney Sally Semonite of New York. Attorney Semonite spoke with the Respondent on January 7, 2003 and was assured by him that Washington Mutual had been paid. Attorney Semonite demanded proof of payment, which was promised but never provided by the Respondent. On January 8, 2003, the Respondent admitted to Attorney Semonite that he had not paid off the Washington Mutual mortgage and that he had used the funds for other purposes. Attorney Semonite then referred the Complainants to the Stamford Police. The Respondent was thereafter arrested in connection with his conduct relative to the Complainants’ refinancing.
The foreclosure of the Complainants’ property by Washington Mutual was ultimately resolved through the intervention of the Complainants’ title insurer.
The Respondent did not answer the grievance complaint.
We conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in serious unethical conduct. The Respondent was entrusted with proceeds from the refinancing of the Complainants’ home and was responsible for the prompt pay off of the first mortgage held by Washington Mutual. Instead of paying off the mortgage, it is clear to us that the Respondent misappropriated those funds and used them for his own benefit, in violation of Rule 1.15(a) and (b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. His misuse of those funds was clearly dishonest and fraudulent in violation of Rule 8.4(1) and (3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s statements to Attorney Semonite that the first mortgage had been paid when he knew it had not violated Rules 4.1(1) and (2) and 8.4(1) and (3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Respondent’s failure to answer the grievance complaint violated Practice Book §2-32(a)(1).
In light of the fact that the Respondent has not yet been convicted of a crime, we cannot conclude by clear and convincing evidence at this time that the Respondent violated Rule 8.4(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In light of the seriousness of the misconduct, it is the order of this reviewing committee that the Respondent be presented to the Superior Court for whatever discipline the Court deems appropriate.
Attorney Raymond B. Rubens
Mr. Thomas McKiernan