Machado v. Johnson
A lawyer who allegedly issues a false statements to a court can be found to violate Rules 3.3(a)(1) and 8.4(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The complainant, Heather Machado, was in a motor-vehicle accident and her husband, Attorney Arthur Machado, represented her. Arthur Machado resigned from the practice of law, and the complainant hired Neil Johnson to represent her. Allegedly, Attorney Johnson did not provide a written fee contract. A court awarded the complainant $5,184 in damages, $2,000 for pain and suffering and $2,500 in attorneys' fees. The defendant appealed unsuccessfully. Allegedly, Arthur Machado researched and drafted the appellate briefs. Johnson signed them and presented the appellate oral argument. Johnson requested attorneys' fees of $60,904 and answered, "Yes," when the court asked whether he had an attorneys' fees contract with his client. The court awarded $24,075 in attorneys' fees and $3,750 in paralegal expenses. The defendant paid $38,164, and Johnson allegedly transferred $28,479 into his operating account and distributed $7,184 to the complainant. Arthur Machado expected Johnson to handle the matter as a courtesy, because Arthur allegedly researched, wrote, copied and filed the briefs. The complainant filed a grievance. The Statewide Grievance Committee found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent allegedly failed to provide a written fee contract, issued a false statement to a court and engaged in conduct that involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, in violation of Rules 1.5(b), 3.3(a)(1) and 8.4(3). The respondent attorney also violated Rule 1.15(e), because he provided a payment of $28,479 to himself, without notice to his client, although there was no attorneys' fee contract. The respondent did not maintain contemporaneous time records, and the Statewide Grievance Committee credited Arthur Machado's testimony that Machado researched and drafted briefs and performed the majority of the legal work discussed in a 2009 fee affidavit. "[T]he July 12, 2009 Affidavit signed by the Respondent under oath and presented to Judge Rittenband," wrote the committee, "was false in that it grossly overstated the amount of time that the Respondent purportedly worked." The Statewide Grievance Committee ordered the respondent's presentment to Superior Court for discipline.