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In re Palmisano

Supreme Court of Vermont

October 2, 2017

In re Joseph P. Palmisano, Esq.

         ORIGINAL JURISDICTION Professional Responsibility Board DOCKET NO. PRB 2017-045

          ENTRY ORDER

         In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

         ¶ 2. On June 22, 2017, this Court directed respondent and Disciplinary Counsel to inform the Court within thirty days of any claim that the imposition of identical discipline in Vermont would be unwarranted. See A.O. 9, Rule 20(B), (D). Respondent filed notice that he did not oppose the imposition of identical discipline. Disciplinary Counsel argued for a harsher sanction. She asserted that a two-year-and-six-month suspension was appropriate under Vermont law given the severity of misconduct set forth in the Arizona decision and the difficulty in supervising probation while respondent was in Arizona. Disciplinary Counsel further requested that respondent not be allowed to seek reinstatement in Vermont under A.O. 9, Rule 22(D) until he was reinstated in Arizona. Respondent submitted an additional reply, opposing Disciplinary Counsel's request. While he agreed that he would not seek reinstatement in Vermont until Arizona had granted him authority to practice law, he maintained that a six-month suspension followed by two years of probation was an adequate and appropriate sanction. On July 25, 2017, the Court placed respondent on interim suspension status pending a ruling on the petition for reciprocal discipline. As set forth below, we conclude that the appropriate discipline to be imposed in Vermont is a two-year suspension, effective as of July 25, 2017, the date that respondent was placed on interim suspension status.

         I. Arizona Discipline

         ¶ 3. Respondent admitted to the counts against him in Arizona, and we conclude that the misconduct described in the Arizona decision has been conclusively established. See A.O. 9, Rule 20(E) ("Except where grounds exist under [A.O. 9, Rule 20(D)], a final adjudication in another jurisdiction that a lawyer has been guilty of misconduct shall establish conclusively the misconduct for purposes of a disciplinary proceeding in this jurisdiction."). In considering reciprocal discipline, we are limited to the "face of the record from which the discipline is predicated, " A.O. 9, Rule 20(D), and we do not consider any explanations or evidence not found in the Arizona record. We note that the Arizona judge rejected the argument, stipulated to by respondent and Arizona Bar Counsel, that respondent's disciplinary violations resulted from respondent's failure to properly manage his office. Respondent stipulated that there were no mitigating factors. The judge found that respondent's admissions far more supported the conclusion that respondent would not, rather than could not, manage his calendar, duties, or practice.

         ¶ 4. With this in mind, we turn to the facts as summarized by the judge in the Arizona decision. Respondent is the owner and managing attorney of the Acacia Law Group (ALG) primarily located in Mesa, Arizona with an office also maintained in Tucson, Arizona. Respondent engaged in a practice of taking out-of-county clients and "contracting" with other attorneys to perform the actual legal services. The State Bar of Arizona filed a complaint against respondent in 2016, as amended in 2017, alleging that he violated the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct in various ways.

         ¶ 5. Under count one, respondent had a client who lived in New York. The client hired respondent's law firm to modify his probation in Arizona. Respondent failed to respond to repeated phone calls from the client for ten months and filed nothing with the court. Respondent did not provide a written accounting as requested by the client. When the client demanded a refund, respondent demanded additional money to file a petition to modify the client's probation. One month later, respondent filed a notice of appearance without requiring the additional money. The probation officer filed a petition waiving the deferred jail time, which was granted by the court.

         ¶ 6. Under count two, respondent represented multiple clients in municipal court cases. He did not personally appear in any of the cases. He missed multiple hearings and was ordered to personally appear in one of the cases but failed to do so.

         ¶ 7. Under count three, a client contacted respondent regarding a traffic case. The client indicated that he wanted to obtain video footage of the intersection at issue but neither respondent nor his law firm (ALG) tried to obtain the video. Respondent sent an ALG notice-of-appearance form to a Tucson lawyer to file with the court. Respondent informed this lawyer that he was unsure of what type of legal coverage would be needed. Shortly before the trial date, respondent asked the Tucson attorney for the first time to handle the hearing. When the Tucson attorney contacted the client that same day, it was the first time the client was told that the Tucson attorney was covering the traffic hearing. Respondent handled the appeal without charge and lost the appeal.

         ¶ 8. Under count four, respondent was scheduled to appear in two superior court cases at the same time. He did not file any motions to continue either matter. The day before the hearings, respondent's secretary called the court, asking if it had received a motion to continue. The court had not and respondent's secretary emailed two motions, neither of which was filed with the court clerk. The motions had the wrong court and wrong case number on them. Respondent stated that he was in trial in a third case on the date in question. It was later discovered that this statement was not true. He was not in trial on the date in question; he had been ordered to appear in that case to set a trial schedule.

         ¶ 9. Under count five, the grandparents of a client paid respondent $10, 000 to represent their granddaughter. In a separate case, they paid respondent $600 to represent their daughter in Indiana regarding an Arizona extradition hold for a relative. However, Arizona released the extradition shortly thereafter eliminating the purpose of the representation. Respondent refused to refund any of the prepaid fee on the daughter's case as he had applied the entirety of that money to the granddaughter's case. The grandparents repeatedly requested the refund from respondent who finally set a time to personally meet with them. Respondent did not appear at the meeting. The meeting was then set for the following day. The discussion became profane and respondent chest-bumped the grandfather before forcing both grandparents out of his office.

         ¶ 10. Under count six, respondent was hired by Paul Walsh, who was indicted for stabbing his brother John Walsh. Under a plea agreement, Paul Walsh was placed on probation. Respondent did not move to withdraw from the case. Thereafter, John Walsh was indicted for shooting Paul Walsh and then himself. Respondent represented John Walsh. After the court removed him for a nonwaivable conflict, respondent argued that he had obtained no "attorney-client" information from Paul and that the parents had waived any conflict. There was evidence, however, that respondent told police detectives that Paul Walsh had been using drugs.

         ¶ 11. Under count seven, respondent's client was charged in a criminal case. A court found in June 2013 that respondent had not complied with his disclosure obligations. By October 2013, respondent still had not produced a disclosure as ordered by the court. He was twice again ordered to produce the disclosure and failed to do so. He was sanctioned $250. Respondent subsequently told the court that he had paid the sanction, which was not true. The court set a hearing for contempt. Respondent still failed to pay the sanction and blamed his assistant. He was sanctioned an additional $250. He then paid the sanction.

         ¶ 12. Respondent admitted the counts against him and admitted to numerous and repeated violations of the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct based on the conduct set forth above, including: failing to comply with the requests of his client regarding representation; failing to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing clients; failing to communicate with clients; failing to assure all lawyers in the firm conformed to the Rules of Professional Conduct; engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; failing to expedite litigation; accepting prepaid legal fees related to his anticipated representation of one client, but applying the fees to the outstanding bill of another client; failing to promptly return unearned fees and property; engaging in unprofessional conduct; revealing client information related to the representation without client consent; failing in duties to prior client by representing another in the same or similar matter in which the former and present clients' interests were materially adverse without former client's consent; using information relating to the representation of a former client to the disadvantage of the former client; disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal; failing to make reasonably diligent efforts to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party; ...


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