The Vermont Professional Responsibility Board has ordered that an attorney receive a public reprimand for violating multiple Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct. In the matter of John Burke, the estate of a deceased Ohio man hired a Vermont attorney to assist in transferring property in Vermont owned by the decedent to his son.
The lawyer accepted a retainer, but failed to file the paperwork necessary to probate the estate, and never requested the property records from the Vermont Probate Court. He also failed to respond to repeated communications from the family. The attorney eventually responded, 8 months later, and promised the family that he would file the paperwork that day, but again failed to take any steps to effectuate the transfer.
Subsequently, the estate filed a professional conduct complaint with the Vermont Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”). The attorney did not answer the complaint for almost 3 months, and also refused to provide additional information requested by disciplinary counsel. As a result, the ODC filed a Petition of Misconduct with the Professional Responsibility Board (“Board”).
In his defense, the attorney argued that he was unable to timely file the necessary paperwork because of other work responsibilities and health issues. However, the Board did not find these arguments persuasive, and ruled that his failure to act diligently and promptly in representing the estate was a violation of Vermont Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3, and his failure to communicate with his clients constituted a violation of Rules 1.4(a)(3) and (4). Consequently, the Board issued a public reprimand of the attorney.
Decision: In re: John Burke