Two important lessons can be gleaned from two recent grievance decisions, Bowler v. Riccio-Ryan, #17-0437, and Hart v. Riccio-Ryan, #17-0348.
The first is to answer any and all grievance complaints. No exceptions. No hoping they get summarily dismissed or the panel will see how obviously ridiculous the claim is. The failure to file a response to the grievance is a violation of the Rules ALL BY ITSELF. Meaning if the panel finds that you didn’t violate any of the Rules of Professional Conduct in how you handled the issue at hand, you will still be found to have violated both the Rules and the Practice Book. This is because Rule 8.1(2) and P.B. § 2-32 require a response to the grievance.
In both of the cited cases, the Grievance Committee found NO violation except for the failure to respond. But, because the attorney had been disciplined more than three times in the five year period preceding the grievances, the Committee was obligated to direct Disciplinary Counsel to file a presentment against her in the Superior Court. Her prior disciplinary issues including failures to respond.
So, now the attorney faces two presentments simply because she failed to respond to grievances, which ultimately were found not to state actionable grounds. Always respond to disciplinary counsel, whether it’s in response to a grievance, or for further information on an IOLTA audit.
The second lesson is to make sure that whatever office system you are using, you are getting your mail and all of your messages. In the two cited cases, the attorney, who shares office space, claimed that she often did not get her mail, even though multiple attempts were made to contact her. Simply stated, if you are unsure that you get all of your mail, do something immediately to correct that situation. If you don’t, then there will be no sympathy, or forgiveness, if you do not receive the mail and suffer consequences as a result. This is vital not just for ensuring that you have notice of matters from the Judicial Branch or Statewide Grievance, but is essential to providing proper representation to your clients.
While these two lessons should be obvious, a reminder appears to be needed, given these cases, and unfortunately a number of others in which discipline was imposed for failure to respond.