IN THE MATTER OF DOMINICK ANTHONY PILLI, ESQUIRE
VSB Docket No. 01-051-1797
On the 5th day of June, 2002, a meeting in this matter was held before a duly convened Fifth District subcommittee consisting of Susan R. Salen, Esquire, Stephen A. Wannall, and Sean P. Kelly, Esquire, presiding.
Pursuant to Part 6, §IV, ¶13(B)(5) of the rules of the Supreme Court, the Fifth District Section I Subcommittee of the Virginia State Bar hereby serves upon the Respondent the following Public Reprimand with Terms:
1. At all times relevant hereto the Respondent, Dominick Anthony Pilli, Esq. (hereinafter the Respondent), has been an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. On May 16, 2000, Kevin A. Becker hired Mr. Pilli to represent him in a domestic relations matter. Mr. Becker and Mr. Pilli signed a written fee agreement. The fee agreement provided that Mr. Becker would pay Mr. Pilli $1,000.00 as an initial advance payment of fees which Mr. Pilli would bill against at the rate of $165.00 per hour. Mr. Pilli was to draft a property settlement agreement and move the divorce along as quickly as possible and be very mindful of keeping costs low. When Mr. Becker hired Mr. Pilli, there was a divorce action pending in his case, he and his wife had been separated for approximately six years, and there were few property issues to be resolved between them. Mr. Becker informed Mr. Pilli that he wished to be divorced by the end of the summer if at all possible. Mr. Becker also informed Mr. Pilli that there was a custody and visitation dispute between him and his wife which Mr. Becker was handling himself.
3. At Mr. Pilli's insistence, Mr. Becker provided Mr. Pilli with a visitation schedule on September 20, 2000. Mr. Pilli forwarded a proposed property settlement agreement to counsel for Mr. Becker's wife on October 2, 2000. On October 27, 2000, the wife's counsel spoke with Mr. Pilli's office and stated that her client rejected the custody and visitation provisions of the agreement. However, opposing counsel also stated that she would be happy to review a revised agreement with her client which did not contain the custody and visitation provisions as they stood, which issues the parties were litigating themselves in another jurisdiction. It was always Mr. Pilli's intention to incorporate the visitation and custody issues into the Property Settlement Agreement. Mr. Becker wrote and called Mr. Pilli to determine the status of the property settlement agreement and divorce. Mr. Pilli failed to follow up with opposing counsel regarding the revised proposed property settlement agreement, and failed to communicate with Mr. Becker regarding the status of the case. Mr. Pilli took no further action to obtain a signed property settlement agreement or a final decree of divorce for Mr. Becker.
4. By letter dated December 16, 2000, Mr. Becker terminated Mr. Pilli as his attorney, and demanded that by January 8, 2001, Mr. Pilli return the $1,000.00 in advance fees which Mr. Becker had paid him, as well as the documents Mr. Becker had provided to Mr. Pilli in the case. Mr. Pilli did not respond to Mr. Becker's letter, failed to provide Mr. Becker with the requested
refund or, in the alternative, an accounting of the fees earned, and failed to return any of Mr. Becker's documents.
5. By letter dated January 23, 2001, the opposing counsel in the case asked Mr. Pilli if he intended to draft a revised property settlement agreement for her client's review, as opposing counsel had suggested in October of 2000. Mr. Pilli forwarded a copy of opposing counsel's January 23, 2001 letter to Mr. Becker. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Becker filed a complaint against Mr. Pilli with the Virginia State Bar.
II. NATURE OF MISCONDUCT
The Subcommittee finds that the following Disciplinary Rules have been violated:
RULE 1.3 Diligence
(a) A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.
RULE 1.4 Communication
(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
(c) A lawyer shall inform the client of facts pertinent to the matter and of communications from another party that may significantly affect settlement or resolution of the matter.
RULE 1.5 Fees
(a) A lawyer's fee shall be reasonable. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:
(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4) the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.
(b) The lawyer's fee shall be adequately explained to the client. When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the amount, basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.
RULE 1.15 Safekeeping Property
(c) A lawyer shall:
(3) maintain complete records of all funds, securities, and other properties of a client coming into the possession of the lawyer and render appropriate accounts to the client regarding them; and
(4) promptly pay or deliver to the client or another as requested by such person the funds, securities, or other properties in the possession of the lawyer which such person is entitled to receive.
RULE 1.16 Declining Or Terminating Representation
(d) Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests, such as giving reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, refunding any advance payment of fee that has not been earned and handling records as indicated in paragraph (e).
(e) All original, client-furnished documents and any originals of legal instruments or official documents which are in the lawyer's possession (wills, corporate minutes, etc.) are the property of the client and shall be returned to the client upon request, whether or not the client has paid the fees and costs owed the lawyer. If the lawyer wants to keep a copy of such original documents, the lawyer must incur the cost of duplication. Upon request, the client must also be provided copies of the following documents from the lawyer's file, whether or not the client has paid the fees and costs owed the lawyer: lawyer/client and lawyer/third-party communications; the lawyer's copies of client-furnished documents (unless the originals have been returned to the client pursuant to this paragraph); pleadings and discovery responses; working and final drafts of legal instruments, official documents, investigative reports, legal memoranda, and other attorney work product documents prepared for the client in the course of the representation; research materials; and bills previously submitted to the client. Although the lawyer may bill and seek to collect from the client the costs associated with
making a copy of these materials, the lawyer may not use the client's refusal to pay for such materials as a basis to refuse the client's request. The lawyer, however, is not required under this Rule to provide the client copies of billing records and documents intended only for internal use, such as memoranda prepared by the lawyer discussing conflicts of interest, staffing considerations, or difficulties arising from the lawyer/client relationship.
Accordingly, it is the decision of the Subcommittee to offer the Respondent an opportunity to comply with certain terms and conditions, compliance with which by July 31,2002 shall be a predicate for the disposition of this complaint by imposition of a Public Reprimand with Terms. The terms and conditions which shall be met by July 31, 2002 are:
1. The Respondent shall refund $500.00 of the advance payment of fees to Mr. Becker by certified check payable to Kevin A. Becker, and provide the Assistant Bar Counsel assigned to this case with a copy of the check.
2. The Respondent shall mail to Kevin A. Becker, by certified mail, return receipt requested, Mr. Becker's entire file in this case, including, but not limited to, all court documents provided to Mr. Pilli by Mr. Becker, and shall provide a copy of the transmittal letter sending the file to Mr. Becker to the Assistant Bar Counsel assigned to this matter.
Upon satisfactory proof that the above noted terms and conditions have been met, a Public Reprimand with Terms shall then be imposed. If, however, the terms and conditions have not been met by July 31, 2002, this matter shall be certified to the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board upon an agreed stipulation of facts as the facts are set forth herein for the sole purpose of imposition of a sanction deemed appropriate by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.
I certify that I have this 12th day of June, 2002, mailed a true and correct copy of the Subcommittee Determination (Public Reprimand with Terms) by CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED, to the Respondent Dominick Anthony Pilli, Esquire, at P.O. Box 873, Fairfax, VA 22030, his last address of record with the Virginia State Bar, and a copy thereof by first class mail, postage prepaid, to the Respondent's counsel, Jan E. Simonsen, Esquire at Carr Goodson, P.C., 1667 K. St., NW, Suite 1101, Washington, DC 20006-1797, and to Noel D. Sengel, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, at 100 North Pitt Street, Suite 310, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3133.