Clients' Security Board sees more awards, smaller amounts in FY 2014

Issue November 2014 By Joshua Crawford

On the surface, the Clients' Security Board Fiscal Year 2014 Report paints a vastly different picture than the year before. While 2014 saw a 65 percent increase in the number of awards given (114) over 2013 (69), the total dollar amount of all awards in 2014 ($1.3 million) was more than half of what the board had awarded the previous year.

The 2014 report caps off a year of hard work and new challenges for the board, which is tasked with reimbursing those who have been financially wronged by their attorney. This past year, as it has every year since 1975, the Clients' Security Board worked tirelessly to clean up the legal profession from the acts of what board Vice Chair Francis C. Morrissey called "a few bad apples."

And he's right. Of the 58,485 lawyers in Massachusetts, the offenses were committed by only 23 attorneys, or .04 percent of the profession. This year in particular, exactly two-thirds of awards given out were result of a single attorney in Worcester County: Rosaleen J. Clayton of Auburn.

These offenses are where the board does its work. Funded entirely by lawyers in the commonwealth, the Clients' Security Board is "one of the crown jewels of the profession," according to Morrissey, who explained that the process in Massachusetts is different from other states. In Massachusetts, there is no cap on the amount of money a wronged party can receive and there is no statute of limitations related to claims.

"The legal community in Massachusetts is very protective of the integrity of the overall justice system." said Massachusetts Bar Association Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy. "Attorneys fully realize that when clients come to an attorney for help they expect to be treated fairly and not further traumatized. The MBA wholeheartedly supports compensating those few victims of attorney theft fully, and in a speedy manner. The trust between the public and a lawyer is a special bond and needs to be rightfully safeguarded and never treated casually."

Morrissey said that staff attorneys, such as Karen D. O'Toole, assistant board counsel, deserve much of the credit for the board's work.

O'Toole explained that the board had to work at an expedited pace in 2014 to deal with all the claims related to Clayton's conduct. During her disciplinary proceedings, Clayton's attorney made contact with all of Clayton's former clients and wrote to them. Contained in the letter was the information for the Clients' Security Board and an instruction that if any of them felt that they were owed money, to contact attorney O'Toole.

Many of them did. As a result, a record 76 awards were given out.

According to Morrissey and O'Toole, the relationship between disciplined attorneys and the board varies from case to case. Some former attorneys want to try to make amends and see that former clients receive the compensation they deserve while others challenge claims for a variety of reasons.

Since each year presents new challenges and every case is different, it's hard to find any sort of pattern in year-to-year reports.

A pattern has emerged though, and that's a pattern of hard work and diligent service from the board and its staff attorneys, and a pattern of dedication to helping those wronged by their attorney in Massachusetts.