May 24, 2018
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Ethical misconduct complaint against Verrill Dana attorneys dismissed with warning

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine Supreme Judicial Court judge has dismissed ethics misconduct charges against six Verrill Dana attorneys over their alleged mishandling of a former partner’s misuse of funds.

Justice Donald Alexander on Friday dismissed in a one-page order the charges brought by the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar but issued a warning to David Warren, James Kilbreth III, Eric Altholz, Mark Googins, Roger Clement Jr. and Juliet Browne.

They were members of the firm’s executive committee when it was discovered in 2007 that John Duncan was stealing from clients. Duncan, who has been disbarred, was convicted in 2008 and served two years in prison for two counts of theft, totaling nearly $300,000. He admitted to stealing from clients’ trust accounts for years.

The warning issued by Alexander will be noted by the Board of Overseers of the Bar, which administers and enforces a code of conduct and rules issued by the Maine Supreme Court. If the attorneys were found to have violated ethical standards, the warning could be considered in any future disciplinary action.

The six lawyers were accused of failing to take swift and appropriate action against Duncan. Alexander originally found that the attorneys had not violated any rules but instead acted out of concern for Duncan’s mental state because he appeared to be suicidal and refused to discuss what had happened.

J. Scott Davis, attorney for the Board of Overseers, appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Court.

In December, the court ruled 3-1 that the Verrill Dana lawyers had violated Maine ethics rules by failing to have policies ensuring that their attorneys follow Maine’s bar rules. The Justices also noted that the six lawyers did not violate their duty to report Duncan when the thefts were discovered.

Justices sent the case back to Alexander and ordered that appropriate sanction be levied.

The outcome was the one recommended by lawyers representing Verrill Dana, Melissa Hewey, the Portland attorney who represented Kilbreth, told a Portland newspaper Friday. Davis has asked for a reprimand, a more serious disciplinary action.

Efforts Saturday to reach Davis were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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