Monday, March 20, 2017

A Reprimand Is Not Enough

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected  a petition for voluntary discipline of reprimand that was supported by the State Bar

In his petition, Palazzola, who has been a member of the Bar since 1999, admits that he promised his former associate attorneys and grievants in this matter as part of their compensation an IRA plan in which his firm would matchtheir contributions up to a certain percentage of salary; that he caused their
contributions to be withheld from their salaries; that for each pay period, he received from the payroll service he used for his firm a check that included the amount of the grievants’ IRA withholdings; that he did not establish an IRA plan during the grievants’ employment and did not pay the withheld earnings or
matching contributions to an IRA plan; that instead the withheld money was placed into a non-interest-bearing law firm account; that near the end of their employment, in or around October 2012, the grievants filed a complaint against him with the United States Department of Labor, which during the course of its investigation established the amount he owed to the grievants, including interest; and that in 2014, he paid each grievant the full respective amount owed to her, including interest. Palazzola admits that he violated Rule 8.4 (a) (4) through this conduct.

Next, Palazzola admits that he paid for weekly Spanish-language print advertisements for his firm in the publication Mundo Hispanico for various periods in 2011, 2012, and 2013; that each of the advertisements included the same photograph of five individuals, one of which was him; that he knew one or more of the individuals in the photograph was not a member of or employed by his firm; that the advertisements included, as translated into English, the statement, “More than 100 years of experience in the following legal areas:” followed by a listing of approximately seventeen areas of practice; that in 2012 he had approximately 13 years of experience as a licensed, practicing lawyer, one of his associates had approximately 1 year of experience, and the other associate had approximately 4 years of experience; that at the time the advertisements were published, he knew that his attorney employees and he had no more than 18 years of combined experience in any practice area and that the statement of 100 years of experience was false as to each practice area and all practice areas combined; and that one of the advertisements indicated that his law firm had offices in Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles when he did not have an office in Miami or Los Angeles but instead had an of-counsel relationship with a firm not named in the advertisement and that unnamed firm had of counsel relationships with a firm in each of those cities. He admits that he violated Rules 7.1 (a) (1) and (b) by causing advertising to be published that he knew at the time contained material misrepresentations of fact and/or omissions of fact necessary to make the statements considered as a whole not materially misleading; that he violated Rule 7.1 (a) (2) because the disparity between the advertised and actual experience of the lawyers in his firm was so extreme that the stated experience was likely to create an unjustified expectation about the results his firm could achieve; and that he violated Rule 8.4 (a) (4) because each instance of false and misleading advertising constituted professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation.

Palazzola further admits that his attorney employees mailed written notifications of their departure to the clients they had been representing; that one such client did not receive the notification and contacted Palazzola’s office on more than one occasion asking to speak to one of Palazzola’s associate attorneys; that Palazzola’s staff initially did not tell the client that the associate attorney had left the firm; that when his staff did tell the client that the attorney had left, they told him that her new address and phone number could not be provided despite knowing that information; that the client later terminated Palazzola’s representation and returned to his former associate attorney for representation; that Palazzola and his staff knew that another client had chosen to continue representation with the associate attorney after her departure, and thereafter, although the associate attorney had notified United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) of her change of address, USCIS sent official documents in one of the client’s cases to her at Palazzola’s office; and that Palazzola’s staff opened the envelope and returned the documents to the USCIS without notifying the client or attorney. Palazzola admits that he violated Rule 5.3 by failing to make reasonable efforts to ensure that his nonlawyer staff conducted themselves in a manner compatible with his professional obligations, resulting in the failure of his office to provide complete and accurate information about the former associate attorney to the client and resulting in official USCIS correspondence concerning the client being returned to USCIS instead of being forwarded to the client’s attorney. Moreover, he admits that in the case of the other client, he failed for a period of weeks to forward his file to his former associate attorney as she requested and thereby violated Rule 1.16.

Despite mitigation

we reject the petition for voluntary discipline and conclude that a reprimand is inadequate under these circumstances, particularly given the number of Rules violations.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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