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In re Holt

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 24, 2014

In the Matter of William F. Holt.

For Petitioner: David D. Curtin Chief Disciplinary Counsel

For Respondent: John A. Tarantino, Esq. Patricia K. Rocha, Esq.

Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

AMENDED ORDER

This disciplinary matter comes before us pursuant to Article III, Rule 6(d) of the Supreme Court Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. On September 16, 2014, the Disciplinary Board (board) of the Supreme Court forwarded for our review its decision that the respondent, William F. Holt (respondent), had violated the Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct, along with a recommendation that we suspend the respondent from the practice of law for three years as a sanction for his misconduct. We directed the respondent to appear before this Court at its conference on October 8, 2014, to show cause why he should not be disciplined. The respondent appeared with counsel. Having heard the representations of the respondent, his attorney, and Disciplinary Counsel, we determine that cause has not been shown, and we accept the board's recommendation.

This proceeding resulted from several complaints filed with the board alleging the respondent had committed misconduct in his representation of four separate clients who had matters pending in the Family Court. As a result of those complaints, formal charges against the respondent were filed with the board. A hearing on the allegations set forth in the charges was scheduled to be heard on May 30, 2014. Prior to that date, Disciplinary Counsel (counsel) and the respondent entered into an agreed statement of facts whereby the respondent agreed he had violated various rules of professional conduct in each of those four separate matters. That agreed statement of facts was submitted to the board members at the hearing, and those facts form the basis of the board's recommendation. We summarize those facts in the manner presented to us by the board.

AUCLAIR

On July 3, 2012, Lynn Auclair (Lynn) obtained a restraining order from the Family Court whereby Brian Auclair (Brian) was restrained from having any contact with her, and Lynn was granted the exclusive use and possession of the marital domicile. By its terms this restraining order was to remain in effect until July 3, 2014. At the time this order was entered, neither Lynn nor Brian was represented by an attorney.

On May 30, 2013, Brian retained the respondent to represent him. Lynn obtained her own attorney shortly thereafter. On June 6, 2013, relying on information provided to him by his client, the respondent appeared before a magistrate judge in the Family Court ex parte and presented a proposed order for entry by the court. The order presented by the respondent authorized Brian to enter the marital domicile and remove any items he chose from the premises. The proposed order purported to be by the agreement of both Brian and Lynn. Relying on the respondent's representations, the magistrate signed the order.

However, Lynn had not agreed to the proposed order, and she was not aware that it was being presented. The respondent did not file a motion to modify the restraining order, provide any notice to Lynn or her attorney that he was appearing before the court, nor notify Lynn or her attorney that he had obtained an order modifying the restraining order. Lynn only became aware that the restraining order had been modified when she discovered that Brian was removing items from the marital domicile. On June 12, 2013, Lynn's attorney filed a motion to vacate the order obtained by the respondent, and the respondent agreed to vacate the order.

The parties to the disciplinary hearing stipulated that the conduct of the respondent in this matter was in violation of Article V, Rules 3.3(a) and (d), 3.5(b), and 8.4(c), of the Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct.[1] We agree. The respondent willfully failed to follow proper procedure to obtain modification of an existing court order, did not notify the opposing party that he was seeking to do so, and he presented a proposed order to the magistrate judge that falsely claimed to have been agreed upon by the parties. It is of no moment that the respondent relied on information provided to him by his own client in doing so. Had he followed proper procedure and filed a motion with notice, Lynn would have been provided the opportunity to be heard. By circumventing the ordinary process, the respondent misled the court and gained an unfair advantage for his client.

BONOLLO

Michelle Bonollo (Michelle) retained Attorney Lois Iannone (Iannone) to represent her in obtaining a divorce, and her husband, Dennis Bonollo (Dennis), retained the respondent. Iannone and the respondent agreed that the respondent would accept service of the divorce complaint and related documents on behalf of Dennis once the divorce case was filed. Iannone prepared the necessary pleadings and filings on behalf of her client to commence the divorce action and presented them to the Family Court Clerk for filing on June 28, 2013. The then-standard practice for the clerk to follow upon receipt of such a filing was to process the paperwork, and when the documents are ready for service, leave the processed paperwork in a common area at the courthouse to be retrieved by the attorney who filed the divorce action. The filing attorney would then effectuate service of process upon the other party.

When a complaint for divorce is filed with the Family Court, there are automatic court orders that immediately come into effect to assist in maintaining the status quo between the divorcing parties until further action by the court. These orders are set forth in a standardized form and become effective upon the plaintiff once a complaint for divorce is filed and upon the defendant upon service of the summons, complaint, and order. The automatic orders include a provision that states:

"Neither party shall sell, transfer, encumber, conceal, assign, remove or in any way dispose of, without the consent of the other party in writing, or without an order of the court, any property, individually or jointly held by parties, except in the usual course of business or for customary and usual household ...

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