Thursday, January 26, 2023

Off The Books

The unusual circumstances of the sale of an automobile led to findings by a Maine Grievance Panel that an attorney had violated a previously-imposed probation and authorizing the filing of an information seeking suspension 

On July 29, 2016, Respondent purchased an automobile from Complainant at her family’s home in Southwest Harbor, Maine. He paid the agreed upon sale price in cash. Complainant provided to Respondent at that time all documentation legally required to effect the sale, including a bill of sale, an odometer disclosure form, and the original title to the automobile signed by her.

Respondent declined to provide his name to Complainant at the time of this transaction. He told her that he would complete his information on the title being transferred to him at a later time, and that his name was not required for the other documentation including the bill of sale. Despite reservations about this, Complainant completed the transaction without knowing Respondent’s name.

The Panel rejected as incredible his present claim that he had provided his name

Respondent drove away in the automobile purchased from Complainant that same day, after attaching dealer plates he brought with him.

Two years later

By letter dated September 11, 2018, over two years after purchasing the vehicle, Respondent wrote to Complainant requesting her assistance to obtain a replacement title for the automobile he purchased from her. He said in this letter that either she never provided the original title to him, or he lost it.

During the more than two years since he had purchased the automobile, at the time he sent Complainant this letter, despite owning the car and using it for his own personal purposes, Respondent had never registered it.

In fact, at the hearing Respondent acknowledged that during the approximately four years he owned and used this automobile, he never registered it, never insured it, and never paid sales tax or excise tax on it. Instead, he continued to use the automobile for personal purposes with the dealer plates attached until he sold it during the spring or summer of 2020.

The dealer plates used by Respondent belonged to Winthrop Auto. Respondent claims he was entitled to use these plates based on his “association” with Winthrop Auto. When asked about the nature of this association, however, Respondent admitted that he did not have any “real relationship” or “formal understanding” with this auto dealership. He has never been an owner, officer, or employee of Winthrop Auto.

Complainant expressed concerns about the situation and retained counsel, to no avail.

The panel expressed concerns about Respondent's statements to counsel

It is a reasonable inference that Respondent included this information in an effort to corroborate his characterization of Dr. Tuttle (repeated in his written submissions) as “assertive” and uncooperative. Even setting aside the inappropriate gender-based nature of this attack on the Complainant (presented as two senior male lawyers allegedly commiserating about an irrational female client), see M.R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(g), it is difficult to ignore the irony of Respondent characterizing Complainant as “assertive,” “difficult,” “hostile,” and as having a “personality disorder” in light of his own behavior, the aggressiveness of which he seems completely oblivious, as evidenced by not only the litigation he initiated against Dr. Tuttle as described in paragraph 24 below, but by his testimony during the December 27, 2022 hearing as well. In any event, Attorney Burke, although he does not have any notes or a specific memory of what he did discuss with Respondent, convincingly denied making any such statement about Dr. Tuttle. The Panel finds Respondent’s description of what Attorney Burke supposedly said about Dr. Tuttle, of which Respondent claims to have a firm recollection (but also no notes or other corroboration), is not believable, but rather an inappropriate effort to diminish Dr. Tuttle’s character and credibility.

Respondent sued complainant

During the fall of 2019, pursuant to a court order entered in the action filed against her by Respondent, Complainant at her own expense, including the need to take time away from her medical practice, went to the New Hampshire DMV (which Complainant represented would require a two hour drive) and obtained a copy of the 2016 registration of the vehicle in her name, which she provided to Respondent. With this copy of the former registration in Dr. Tuttle’s name, Respondent was able to obtain a new title for the automobile, which he acknowledged receiving by late December 2019.

And did not attend the trial

Respondent testified that his failure to appear was due to a vaguely described and uncorroborated error with his office calendar. The Panel finds his explanation is not credible, and instead finds it is more likely than not that he deliberately failed to appear for trial, having already obtained the relief he requested other than his costs which he was unlikely to recover, as a final act of vindictiveness against Complainant, who again had to close her medical practice and travel several hours to Maine to attend a hearing on a claim that Respondent no longer had any intention of pursuing, but refused to dismiss voluntarily.


this Panel has concluded that Respondent violated the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, including specifically Rule 3.3(a)(1), Rule 8.1(a), and Rules 8.4(a), (c), and (d).


This Panel finds Respondent’s history of discipline and sanctions, and in particular his violation of his current Probation, to be aggravating factors. In the circumstances, this Panel finds a risk that the unethical conduct by Respondent is likely to be repeated. The Panel finds no mitigating circumstances, given the deliberate and dishonest nature of Respondent’s misconduct.

Accordingly, pursuant to M. Bar Rule 13(e)(10)(E), this Panel finds probable cause for suspension of Respondent, and directs Bar counsel to file an Information pursuant to M. Bar Rule 13(g).

Pursuant to M. Bar Rules 13(a) and (b), this Panel further directs Bar Counsel to undertake an investigation of Respondent’s use of the dealer plates from Winthrop Auto, with respect to the automobile purchased from Dr. Tuttle and otherwise, to determine whether such conduct constitutes further violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and other applicable law.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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