Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent 2 year suspension of a Connecticut lawyer who was sued for legal malpractice and released his former client’s psychiatric records in retaliation and to embarrass the client. The case is In re: Discipline of James Pengilly, SC Case No. 74316. The case is styled Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason E. Pearl, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Order 418034, Docket No.: HHBCV186043301S.
The lawyer’s former client, Veronica Perakos, sued him for professional malpractice in December 2014. According to the complaint, the client hired the lawyer in 2011 to defend her in a lawsuit her condominium association filed regarding alleged failure to pay common fees and monthly special assessment fees. Her debt to the association was $22,358.00 and the lawyer was alleged to have failed to notify her about the risk of foreclosure if she did not make the monthly payments on the debt.
The lawsuit also claimed the lawyer did not explain to the client what happened after a court hearing, failed to give the client file to the client’s new lawyer in a timely manner, and told the new lawyer that the client’s foreclosure matter would be resolved if she placed the property on the market for a price set by the court. The lawyer had previously been suspended for 120 days in 2013 for not complying with a random IOLTA audit and the lawsuit claimed that he also failed to notify the client of that audit.
According to court documents, approximately six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer filed an electronically filed motion with the court asking that the client be declared “unfit to testify due to her psychiatric history, medical commitment, conservatorship and untruthfulness.” The client’s psychiatric records were also enclosed with the motion without the client’s permission. According to media reports, the lawyer had represented the client on previous matters, which was how he obtained her medical records dating back to 2006.
The malpractice litigation resulted in a judgment for the client and, after reviewing the information and evidence regarding the publication of the client’s confidential psychiatric records, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander found as follows:
The Court finds clear and convincing evidence that Jason E. Pearl violated Rule 8.4(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. He engaged in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice by his unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records. The Court finds that the respondent violated Rule 1.9 of the Professional Rules of Conduct in that his conduct was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client. As a result of these findings, the Court orders a 2 year suspension on his right to practice law effective immediately. The court orders that the respondent must successfully complete 20 hours of legal ethics training and file notice evidencing the completion of this training. The training must be attended in person and not online. The respondent also must comply with the requirements of Practice Book § 2-47B during his suspension. If the respondent seeks reinstatement to the bar after the period of suspension, he must comply with the procedures outlined in Practice Book § 2-53.
Bottom line: This case involves a lawyer who was apparently upset that his client had filed a malpractice claim against him and he decided to make an “unauthorized public release of a former client’s psychiatric records”, which “ was retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client.”
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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