ELLSWORTH, Maine — A local lawyer has been warned but faces no other disciplinary action as a result of a complaint against him filed with the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar.
According to a decision made available on the board’s website, the complaint filed against Steven A. Juskewitch by Daniel and Linda Lunt has been dismissed but the lawyer needs to be more diligent in communicating information to his clients.
The Lunts filed a complaint with the board against Juskewitch in May 2010, alleging that he mishandled the July 24, 2008, sale of their property on Frenchboro. The sale of their home to one of Daniel Lunt’s sons included a wharf that Daniel Lunt owned, though the couple did not intend to sell the wharf along with the house.
During an Aug. 24 disciplinary hearing before a panel at Penobscot Judical Center in Bangor, the Lunts described a chaotic scene at Juskewitch’s now-former office on Church Street on the day the closing took place. Juskewitch was not there when they arrived, but Daniel Lunt’s father, David Lunt, from whom they are estranged, was there. They declined to go inside and were leaving when Linda Lunt accidentally drove over a retaining wall in the office parking lot and got the vehicle stuck.
The Lunts stayed outside while Zachary Lunt, Daniel’s son who was buying the property, and David Lunt, who was financing the sale, waited inside. Juskewitch’s paralegal, Stephanie Fountaine, ended up acting as a go-between for all parties until Juskewitch came back from a separate court hearing. Fountaine testified on Aug. 24 that she read aloud the contents of the deed to the Lunts on July 24, 2008, and that it included the wharf.
Despite the commotion and the Lunts’ efforts to find a wrecker to get their car off the wall, all the parties ended up agreeing to the sale. Juskewitch testified that the Lunts expressed reluctance on July 24, 2008, about selling the wharf but ended up agreeing to do so.
The Lunts claimed they found out the next summer that they had inadvertently sold the wharf along with the house. The Lunts, who now live in Otter Creek, had intended to sell the wharf at a later date in order to make an alimony payment that Daniel Lunt owed a previous wife. They said they had made Juskewitch aware of this plan before they asked him to prepare a deed for the transaction.
The bar panel’s Sept. 2 decision indicates that it is not clear that the Lunts ever specifically told Juskewitch not to include the wharf in the prepared deed.
Complicating the matter, Juskewitch was contacted by the Lunts more than a year after the closing and then sent them a letter in August 2009 indicating that the wharf was not part of the sale. According to Juskewitch, he wrote the letter after his clients told him inaccurately that Zachary Lunt agreed that the wharf should not have been included in the sale. Two months later, after Fountaine returned from maternity leave and refreshed the attorney’s memory, he sent another letter clarifying that the wharf had been included.
While calling the closing “chaotic,” the panel wrote in its decision that the property descriptions in the various deeds and mortgages were confusing and inconsistent. The Lunts, the board added, were not clear with Juskewitch about their expectations or his role in the transaction.
The only clear case of misconduct in the whole affair, the panel concluded, was the August 2009 letter that inaccurately represented what properties were included in the sale.
In the warning, the panel told Juskewitch that he must be diligent and take appropriate steps to convey accurate information to his clients.
“Improving your office practices with respect to documentation of client engagements and expectations, and communications with office staff, could substantially assist you in meeting that duty,” the panel wrote in its decision.
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. Juskewitch also received a warning for that complaint but otherwise received no disciplinary action.
The panel noted that the previous complaint and resulting warning was an aggravating factor in their decision about the Lunts’ complaint.
“While the circumstances of that matter were very different, the panel concludes that both instances of misconduct stemmed, in part, from excessive informality in certain aspects of [Juskewitch’s] documentation practices,” the board wrote. “If [Juskewitch] had more formally documented the scope of his engagement and his clients’ expectations surrounding the July 2008 transaction, he might well have avoided committing misconduct by sending the August 2009 letter.”
J. Scott Davis, bar counsel for the board of overseers, declined Wednesday to comment on the decision, except to reiterate that Juskewitch faces no discipline other than the warning.
Attempts Wednesday to contact Juskewitch’s attorney, Malcolm Lyons of Augusta, were unsuccessful.
Juskewitch said Wednesday that he thinks the board’s decision was a good one. He said he supports the ability of clients to question the representation they have received from any attorney.
“I thought it was appropriate to dismiss the complaint,” Juskewitch said.
He said one thing he has learned from the complaint is that he should verify the information he gets from his clients before he puts it in writing. The downside of doing that, he added, is that it could increase legal costs for his clients.
“I’ve always tried to do what the client needs to have done,” he said. “I do the best I can.”