BANGOR, Maine — An Ellsworth lawyer told an investigative panel on Wednesday that, contrary to what some former clients allege, they knew a Frenchboro wharf was included in a 2008 real estate transaction for which he had helped prepare documents.
Steven A. Juskewitch sat before three representatives of the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar in a courtroom at Penobscot Judicial Center on Wednesday to answer to charges that he violated bar rules while representing Daniel and Linda Lunt of Frenchboro.
The Lunts claim that when they sold their Frenchboro home to one of Daniel Lunt’s sons, Zachary Lunt, they never meant to include a wharf in the transaction. Juskewitch, who helped prepare the deed for the deal and participated in the closing, knew they wanted to retain ownership of the wharf but nonetheless included it in the deal against their wishes, according to the Lunts.
The Lunts told the panel they thought they had retained ownership of the wharf until the next year, when they contacted Daniel’s sons — Zachary and Nathaniel — and told them they were ready to sell the wharf. The Lunts had planned to sell the pier to the sons later, after they sold the house, in order to raise funds for an alimony payment that Daniel Lunt was due to pay his previous wife.
Daniel and Linda Lunt now live in the Mount Desert village of Otter Creek.
At first they received little response from Daniel’s sons, the Lunts said, but eventually the sons told Daniel and Linda they could not sell the pier.
“They said, ‘sorry, we already own it,’” Daniel Lunt said.
Lunt told the panel he has a reading disability and his wife dealt with most of the paperwork the couple had to sign and approve as part of the house sale. Linda Lunt said she and her husband knew Juskewitch fairly well because he represented them on other legal matters and that he and his paralegal both knew of their plans to not include the wharf in the house sale.
“I think we made it clear to him that we didn’t want to sell the wharf,” Linda Lunt said. ”We had a good relationship with Steve. We believed him.”
On July 24, 2008, the day the sale took place, multiple unexpected developments occurred that complicated the matter, according to Juskewitch and the Lunts.
The Lunts showed up at Juskewitch’s then-office on Church Street in Ellsworth to sign the newly prepared deed and found out David Lunt, Daniel’s father, was inside the office with Zachary Lunt and Zachary’s wife, Laurette Lunt. Daniel and Linda Lunt were estranged from David Lunt as a result of a previous family dispute, but David Lunt was financing the purchase on behalf of his grandson and told Juskewitch’s staff that he had to be there to make sure the deal went through.
David Lunt’s attorney, Melissa Hale of Ellsworth, also appeared unexpectedly with mortgage documents for everyone to sign, even though Daniel and Linda Lunt and Juskewitch did not realize the closing had been scheduled to happen at Juskewitch’s office that day.
Daniel and Linda Lunt were unhappy that David Lunt was there and before getting out of their car they decided to leave. But while turning their vehicle around in the office parking lot, Linda drove partly over the top of a retaining wall and got the car stuck. They called Juskewitch’s paralegal, Stephanie Fountaine, and told her they were not coming inside.
While all this was going on, Juskewitch was in court, which temporarily left Fountaine in a position of having to moderate between Zachary, Laurette and David Lunt, all of whom were inside the office, and Daniel and Linda Lunt, who stayed outside trying to find a wrecker to free their car from the wall.
Juskewitch eventually returned from court and, after finding out what was going on from Fountaine, oversaw the transaction.
Juskewitch said Wednesday that he usually does not do real estate work and, in the Lunts’ case, prepared a deed for the transaction based upon an old one provided by Daniel and Linda Lunt that described the wharf as part of the property to be sold.
Juskewitch said when Linda Lunt was waiting outside his office during the closing, she said she and her husband would prefer not to sell the wharf with the house. He said he went inside to talk to the buyers and was told by David Lunt that the wharf had to be included or there would be no deal. Juskewitch went back outside and told this to Daniel and Linda Lunt, who agreed to go ahead with the deal despite their initial reluctance.
After Fountaine went over the sale deed with them in the parking lot, the Lunts signed it and went ahead with the sale, the attorney said.
While being questioned by his attorney, Malcolm Lyons of Augusta, Juskewitch had to take a moment during his testimony to compose himself. He cleared his throat several times. When the Lunts contacted him in the summer of 2009 to raise concerns about whether they had sold the wharf, he said, he could not remember what the sale included. A few weeks later, after Fountaine returned from maternity leave, she reminded him of the closing and he recalled Linda Lunt’s reservations but eventual agreement to sell the wharf.
“I like to think I do a good job,” Juskewitch said. “I was not able to do as much work in a timely manner [when Fountaine was on maternity leave].”
Lyons and Aria Eee, assistant bar counsel for the overseers, each declined to comment about the complaint after Wednesday’s proceeding. Eee did say the panel is likely to reach a decision within the next month about whether to discipline Juskewitch.
It is the second time in the past year that Juskewitch, who ran for district attorney of Hancock and Washington counties in 2002, 2006 and 2010, has faced a reprimand from the board of overseers.
In July 2009, around the same time the Lunts realized they had sold their wharf, Juskewitch took possession of items that belonged to another client “as collateral for [her] unpaid bill,” according to a report filed with the board last fall.
In that unrelated case, Juskewitch’s actions violated Maine Bar rules concerning conflict of interest and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, according to the report. He ended up receiving a warning from the overseers but was not otherwise disciplined, which meant he was allowed to continue practicing law without any restrictions.