The defendants are the two senior members of the firm of Lessner, Rottner, Karp and Jacobs of Manchester, and both have been members of the bar for over thirty years. On presentment to the Superior Court by the grievance committee of the Hartford County bar, the defendants were found guilty of violations of the preamble to the canons of professional ethics and also of Nos. 6, 15, 29 and 37 of the canons.
Among the junior members of the defendants' firm are Ronald Jacobs, a member of the bar for approximately ten years, and L. Paul Sullivan, a member of the bar for two years. Between April 5, 1960, and April 5, 1962, Jacobs and another junior member of the firm represented Twible in two minor collection matters arising out of his operation of a service station. Jacobs was also consulted in connection with the killing of Twible's dog by an automobile. All of these matters had been settled or otherwise closed by April 5, 1962, and the only charge made by the firm was a fee of $25 for services in one of the collection matters.
On June 4, 1962, Jacobs was retained by Twible in another collection matter, involving approximately $200, against Douglas Houghton, who was nineteen years of age and had no visible assets. Houghton
On July 31, 1962, Sullivan was consulted by Thomas O'Brien, who wanted to bring suit against Twible for assault and battery. Sullivan fully disclosed to O'Brien that the firm had represented Twible in the other matters mentioned above, and, before undertaking to represent O'Brien, Sullivan consulted Jacobs and ascertained that Twible was not on a retainer basis and that he had not consulted Jacobs about the O'Brien case.
On August 1, 1962, Sullivan, with Jacobs' approval, instituted suit on O'Brien's behalf against Twible, while the Houghton matter was still pending. The first count charged Twible with assault and battery, and the second count sought punitive and exemplary damages, charging that the assault and battery by Twible was wilful, wanton, malicious, premeditated and vindictive. The firm entered its appearance for O'Brien. The complaint sought damages of $20,000 from Twible, and his home was attached.
Neither Sullivan nor Jacobs discussed O'Brien's case with Twible, and no consent was secured from him before the O'Brien suit was commenced. After the O'Brien writ was served on Twible, Mrs. Twible called Sullivan and asked why the firm took the O'Brien case. Sullivan told her that it was a just and valid claim, and the firm had decided
On October 6, 1962, Twible complained to the Hartford County grievance committee that the firm of Lessner, Rottner, Karp and Jacobs, while representing him in the Houghton collection case, had undertaken to represent O'Brien against him. On October 12, 1962, the committee, in a letter addressed to the firm, attention of Jacobs, advised that Twible had complained that the firm, while representing him in one case, represented another client in a case against Twible, and the committee requested the firm to furnish an explanation. The committee requested Jacobs and Sullivan to be present at a hearing to be held on October 29, 1962, but did not request the attendance of Lessner or Rottner. Lessner first learned about the appearance of the firm in both cases when Jacobs, on October 13, 1962, showed him the letter from the grievance committee.
Rottner did not learn of Lessner's 1959 conversation with Twible concerning his temporary commitment to a mental hospital because of the assault on his son until the grievance committee hearing was held. Both Lessner and Rottner attended the grievance committee hearing as senior members of the firm in a matter involving the firm's professional conduct and for the purpose of acting as counsel for Jacobs and Sullivan.
At the hearing, all members of the firm who were present, including Lessner and Rottner, were sworn
After the hearing, Lessner and Rottner permitted the firm's appearance in both the Houghton and O'Brien matters to continue. On February 2, 1963, Lessner, Rottner, Jacobs and Sullivan were informed by the grievance committee that they would be presented to the Superior Court for disciplinary action. The defendants were charged with violation of the preamble to, and of Nos. 6, 15, 29 and 37 of, the canons of professional ethics.
The defendants, together with Jacobs and Sullivan, consulted an attorney who had no connection with the firm. That attorney advised them not to withdraw from either the O'Brien or the Houghton matter because withdrawal would constitute an admission of impropriety. On the advice of counsel, the defendants continued to maintain the O'Brien and Houghton matters in their present status.
The court found the defendants guilty of the violations charged, and it rendered judgment reprimanding them and ordering their withdrawal from the Houghton and O'Brien matters with the repayment of all retainers and without liability on the part of the clients for any services rendered by the firm. From that judgment, the defendants have appealed to this court.
We can properly turn to the memorandum of decision to ascertain the grounds upon which the court acted. State Bar Assn. v. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co., 145 Conn. 222, 230, 140 A.2d 863; Rogers
We feel that this rule should be rigidly followed by the legal profession. When a client engages the services of a lawyer in a given piece of business he is entitled to feel that, until that business is finally disposed of in some manner, he has the undivided loyalty of the one upon whom he looks as his advocate and his champion. If, as in this case, he is sued and his home attached by his own attorney, who is representing him in another matter, all feeling of loyalty is necessarily destroyed, and the profession is exposed to the charge that it is interested only in money.
There is no error.
In this opinion KING, C. J., MURPHY and DEVLIN, Js., concurred; ALCORN, J., concurred in the result.