Sunday, September 5, 2010
The web page of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers reports reciprocal discipline based on the revocation of the attorney's Virginia license. The facts:
The respondent has operated an Internet website, http://www.investinginland.com, through which he has marketed home study courses and booklets regarding land investing. In 2004, a consumer ordered, paid $99 for and received some materials from the respondent’s website. The respondent then sent the consumer an email offering additional material for $795. The consumer paid the respondent for the additional material with his Visa credit card. When the consumer did not receive the material, despite repeated requests, he disputed the credit card charge. Visa issued a charge-back, which was upheld over the respondent’s protests.
The respondent then sent the consumer a stream of emails demanding payment of the original $795 charge plus an additional $420 for the respondent’s “fees and expenses” in responding to the charge-back. The respondent threatened the consumer with criminal action, a “federal mail fraud complaint” and “imminent arrest”—“See you in court. You’ll be in the handcuffs”. When the consumer informed the respondent that he was represented by a lawyer, the respondent wrote back that “I don’t care if you are represented by the Pope.” In a later email, the respondent told the consumer “I’m a practicing lawyer in SIX jurisdictions, Federal and State. Your lawyer is giving you BAD advice.” When the consumer’s lawyer contacted the respondent and directed him to stop contacting the consumer directly, the respondent contacted the consumer directly and added $150 to his demand for “costs associated with having to read and reply to that truly dumb letter your so-called ‘lawyer’ sent me.”
In a second matter, another consumer purchased material from the respondent’s website for $59.80 and then mistakenly disputed the charge on his credit card. The consumer recognized his error and offered to pay the respondent $97 for the original charge and an administrative fee the respondent claimed to have incurred. The respondent rejected the offer and repeatedly sent the consumer emails threatening the consumer with felony charges, arrest and jail unless he paid the respondent an amount that increased first to $540 and then to $1,180. The consumer was terrorized by the respondent’s threats because he relied on the respondent’s statements as a lawyer and believed that he was going to be arrested.
The misconduct involved using threats of criminal charges to obtain an advantage in a civil matter and unauthorized communication with a represented party.
The attorney had failed to report the Virginia sanctions to the Massachusetts bar authorities. (Mike Frisch)