Thursday, December 25, 2008

State grievance panel for lying lawyers in Connecticut?


Maureen Duggan file photo


State Agency Lawyer Reprimanded For Her Letter

By JON LENDER | The Hartford Courant
December 25, 2008


A state agency lawyer has been reprimanded and told to attend nine hours of ethics classes for "fraud and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice" in 2004, when she posed as a parking lot attendant in a letter that led to the firing of the state ethics chief.

A three-member reviewing panel of the Statewide Grievance Committee for lawyers announced the disciplinary decision Wednesday that it had reached last Friday concerning the lawyer, Maureen Duggan.

At the time the panel conducted a hearing on Duggan's case Nov. 6, she already had admitted wrongdoing and agreed to the settlement calling for the reprimand and the nine hours of classes to be taken over three years. The decision announced Friday merely ratifies all of that.

The settlement enables Duggan to preserve her law license and avert disbarment or suspension — and thus to keep her job as a $105,000-a-year attorney at the state Department of Children and Families.

The reprimand and ethics classes had been proposed to the panel by chief disciplinary counsel Mark A. Dubois. At the Nov. 6 hearing, Duggan's lawyer, Hope Seeley, told the panel that she's never had a client "more remorseful ... or more publicly humiliated." For her own part, Duggan called the experience "extremely humiliating, embarrassing and humbling."

The decision technically does not take effect for 30 days after the decision, but that delay allows for a lawyer to appeal her discipline — and Duggan already has agreed to it. On May 18, The Courant disclosed that Duggan had written the letter in August 2004, when she was a staff lawyer for the State Ethics Commission working for Alan S. Plofsky.

In the intentionally misspelled letter, Duggan said that she was a parking lot attendant. She alleged irregularities at the ethics agency's office but wrote, "I want to be anonimus." After ethics commission members received the letter in 2004, Duggan and two co-workers filed sworn "whistle-blower" complaints against Plofsky, alleging misconduct.

The commission fired him the following month based on those complaints, including claims he improperly ran up compensatory time and ordered a tape destroyed. In her sworn 2004 complaint, Duggan referred to her own letter as "an anonymous letter," as if it had been written by someone else. Plofsky denied all charges and appealed to a state panel that reinstated him, but not to his old job. He retired in May.

Critics, including the Connecticut chapter of the good-government advocacy group Common Cause, had called for Duggan to lose her state job, if not her law license, saying that she couldn't be trusted in a sensitive and responsible job as a Department of Children and Families attorney with management responsibilities.

But state personnel officials later investigated Duggan over the letter and did not recommend discipline because they found her conduct violated no state regulations. Gov. M. Jodi Rell had criticized Duggan's behavior sharply, but a spokesman for her office said that after the state personnel officials' decision, there was little chance of pursuing the matter successfully.

Meanwhile, the reviewing panel also has dismissed misconduct charges against Duggan's ex-husband, lawyer Steven Regula, Dubois said Wednesday. Duggan had testified that Regula mailed the bogus letter to ethics commission members in 2004. But Dubois recommended dismissal because of "marital privilege," barring Duggan from testifying against him. Regula's lawyer, Richard Brown, said Regula never read the letter.

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