December 30, 2010
In a 35 page order, charges of misconduct against five partners of a prominent Maine law firm have been dismissed by a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. The charges had alleged that the partners had failed to timely investigate and report a now-disbarred partner in the face of his secretary's report of misconduct.
The court noted a number of undisputed facts, including:
At all times material to this case, John Duncan was a partner at Verrill Dana.
He was widely respected throughout the firm as an individual of unquestioned—at
the time—honesty and integrity and one who often assumed firm-wide
responsibilities, serving as a “bridge” between various groups in the firm because
of his personal style and firm-wide respect. Duncan also was involved in a number
of activities in the greater Portland community and was widely respected in those
community activities. Duncan had joined Verrill Dana out of law school in 1978
and, until the revelations that gave rise to this case, was viewed in the firm and the
community at large as a person above reproach.
The court found that the charges had not been proven in that the misconduct appeared to be an isolated incident. An immediate report to the Bar might have exposed the firm to a civil action. The partners also had a reasonable belief that a report might trigger a suicide.
The single justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court concluded:
The respondents observed Duncan’s misconduct, and applying the trust built up over thirty years and the mutual commitment of partnership, invited him to remain with the firm. They delayed
further investigation and report of his actions based on humane consideration of a fellow partner’s difficult emotional situation. When the true extent of Duncan’s misconduct was revealed, they promptly reported it and proceeded to make betrayed clients whole. With the clarity of hindsight, the respondents were perhaps too trusting when they had good reason to trust, but they committed no violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
This case had been tried over multiple days in early December. (Mike Frisch)
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