One case I am handling is justifiably getting a lot of publicity. Recent developments, however, have expanded the impact of this case far beyond my clients. In fact, it impacts every person and company who uses the services of Connecticut attorneys. That’s because it turns out if you have a serious problem with an attorney who you believe has been unethical, you have virtually no rights after you file a grievance, no matter what happens with your grievance. This page will provide ongoing information about the case and the grievance issues. Here’s the background:
One of my clients, a twelve-year-old, finds himself at the center of an attorney misconduct controversy involving millions of dollars and some of the best-known and well-connected attorneys in Connecticut. Worse, Danny D’Attilo appears to be the victim of a system of attorney self-regulation that is turning a blind eye to allegations of unethical conduct of Danny’s former attorneys who are being treated as if they are too big to discipline.
In May 2011, a jury awarded $58.6 million to Cathy and Domenic D’Attilo, and their son Danny, the largest medical malpractice award in Connecticut history. The verdict made headlines. The doctor’s negligence left Danny severely disabled at birth and cut his life expectancy more than half. To avoid an appeal, the medical malpractice parties settled in January 2012 for $25 million. Though Danny will always suffer physically, the settlement meant the D’Attilos could finally move on from the nightmare of having one’s child permanently disabled during delivery. Or so they thought.
Danny and his parents allege in a civil complaint filed in New Haven Superior Court, and then in grievances filed with the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee (SGC), that their attorneys conspired to misappropriate $4.34 million in illegal legal fees from the $25 million settlement and then failed to provide proof of more than $600,000 in purported legal expenses. Grievances for a number of related issues were filed against these well-connected attorneys, who include a former president of the Connecticut Bar Association. One of the attorneys is a member of a local grievance panel. Initially, he had been assigned to review two grievances connected to his own grievance. The impartiality of the process is further under fire because two of the attorneys were represented by a former Chief Disciplinary Counsel (now in private practice), the same person who presented prosecutions to the SGC for six years. This attorney now employs the attorney who replaced him as Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
In a motion just filed with the Connecticut Supreme Court, the D’Attilos are asking this state’s highest court to review, investigate, and if necessary, reform the state’s disciplinary system for what the D’Attilos allege is an attorney disciplinary process that leaves Connecticut clients vulnerable to unethical attorneys, with no right to appeal. The motion was denied without comment (but we will be returning to the Connecticut Supreme Court).
The D’Attilo family’s long journey to filing this motion began more than a decade ago on March 21, 2003 when they signed a retainer agreement. The 2003 agreement specified the exact calculation for fees, in this case, $2.66 million. Despite that, in 2012, the law firm deducted $7 million in legal fees. Although the grievance committee found probable cause of professional misconduct against two of the D’Attilos’ attorneys, these attorneys are being offered an extraordinary sweetheart deal by Connecticut’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC): the two attorneys can avoid any hearing and any further investigation simply by accepting a slap on the wrist reprimand only for their undocumented $600,000+ in legal expenses. This offer permits the attorneys to keep the extra $4.34 million in legal fees allegedly misappropriated. They also get to keep the $600,000+ in expenses they are unable to document to the OCDC. Moreover, the OCDC is not investigating the firm’s accounting practices to see if other clients had similar problems.
At the same time these high profile attorneys are being offered this sweetheart deal, the OCDC is seeking to suspend or disbar a solo practitioner in the case now before the Connecticut Supreme Court for allegedly misappropriating $313,000 in legal fees, less than 1/10 the amount alleged in the D’Attilo case. Yet, there is nothing the D’Attilos can do about this because Connecticut clients do not have the right to appeal any decision of Connecticut’s self-regulated attorney disciplinary system, no matter how bad, unfair, biased, or plainly wrong the decision may be. The D’Attilos are fighting this injustice.
More links for further information:
- Only in Bridgeport Blog Article February 25, 2016
- Statewide Grievance Committee rejects proposed grievance settlement
- The Chief Disciplinary COunsel of Connecticut files additional allegations of misconduct against two Koskoff, Koskoff, & Bieder attorneys
- Law360 Article, February 25, 2016 (subscription required, 7 day free subscriptions available). Law360.com published my response to the article as”Expert Analysis“.
- Connecticut Law Tribune February 22, 2016 article about the additional allegations filed by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel here. Additional Law Tribune articles here and here.
- Article in the Wilton Bulletin about the grievance case.
- Connecticut Supreme court motion related to grievance issues.
- Connecticut Post: December 25, 2015
- Docket and documents for the D’Attilo case against the statewide grievance defendants: gl/gWUoAJ. (For example, see Amended Complaint: goo.gl/ivQFKU, and Exhibits, documenting specific problems with grievance process)
- Docket and documents for the D’Attilo case against the Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder and Day Pitney law firms: gl/w0nBWb
- You can download a copy of the original grievance here (pages 126-167).
- Interview on Legal Eagle (WNHH Radio) with Marcia Chambers (May 24, 2016)