Monday, March 20, 2023

No Associates

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has suspended an attorney for charging and collecting excessive fees

This matter came before me on an Information and Record of Proceedings filed by the Board of Bar Overseers (board) in January, 2023, under S.J.C. Rule 4:01, § 8 (6), as appearing in 453 Mass. 1310 (2009). The respondent, Daniel G. Ruggiero, was charged with participating in a scheme with nonlawyers to charge and collect illegal and excessive fees from fifteen clients – homeowners in Massachusetts and Rhode Island seeking mortgage assistance relief work. The respondent also was charged with failing to supervise nonlawyers with whom he worked, using a misleading law firm name, and sharing fees with nonlawyers. Count I of the petition regards the respondent's activities generally, while Count II focuses on one particular Rhode Island client.

A hearing was held on March 2, 2023, attended by assistant bar counsel and the respondent, and, on consideration thereof and for the reasons set forth below, it is ordered that the respondent's license to practice law is suspended for a period of one year and one day.

As to the allegations

The record supports the hearing committee's conclusion that the respondent violated each of these rules. As an initial matter, the fee agreement represented that the respondent would negotiate personally with lenders. There is substantial evidence in the record that this promise was "illusory and false." Similarly, substantial evidence supported the committee's conclusion that the representation that nonlegal services "may be provided by outside servicing Agents, all of whom shall be engaged, compensated, and supervised by Daniel Ruggiero, Esq. and Associates" was false. The nonlawyer agents all were hired and paid by NVA or ND. To the extent that the respondent occasionally may have supervised agents, the record supports the committee's finding that there were no "Associates." Indeed, the respondent conceded as much. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 8.4 (c), (h).

Four areas of violations

In determining its recommended sanction, the board sorted the respondent's rule violations into four categories. The first area of misconduct concerns the respondent's fee agreement and fee collection practices. This arrangement allowed the respondent to collect fees every month, even if no work was performed, in violation of rules 1.5, 8.4 (c), and 8.4 (h)...

The second area of misconduct related to the respondent's failure to communicate with his clients, as well as his delegation of work to unsupervised nonlawyers and subsequent ratification of their conduct. This conduct encompassed the respondent's violations of rules 1.1 and 1.4...

The third area of misconduct concerned the respondent's sharing fees with nonlawyers in violation of rule 5.4. The board noted that the typical sanction for a rule 5.4 violation is an admonition...

The fourth area of misconduct, which the respondent conceded, was his misrepresentation that he was part of a legal organization as opposed to a solo practitioner.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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