December 9, 2011
The Limits Of Compassion
The full court disagreed with a single justice's conclusion that six partners of Verrill Dana LLP had not violated ethical obligations with respect to the misconduct of a partner who had repeatedly misappropriated client funds:
We recognize that these six attorneys, comprising Verrill Dana's execeutive committee, were caught completely "off guard" by [the partner's] conduct. We also recognize that they dealt with [him] with compassion, and there is no suggestion of bad faith in their failure to refer his conduct to Bar Counsel or to individuals in the firm who were more capable of assessing the need for action, such as the firm's own counsel. However, we cannot ignore that, when faced with the significant malfeasance of a self-destructing partner, none of these attorneys even recognized that the Maine Code of Professional Responsibility required them to contemplate reporting that partner's conduct and subsequent breakdown. Notwithstanding the single justice's factual findings, when a firm's practices and policies do not require the firm's leadership to at least consider whether it has an ethical obligation to report a colleague in the circumstances presented by this case, we are compelled to find, as a matter of law, that the firm failed to have in effect "measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Code of Professional Responsibility."
The matter was remanded for a sanction determination. (Mike Frisch)
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