The State Bar of Georgia brought disciplinary proceedings against Alan C. Manheim, charging him with violations of Standards 4, 44, 45, and 63 of Bar Rule 4-102 in connection with an insurance matter entrusted to him. 1
1. In 1982, Manheim agreed to assert negligence claims against insurance companies on behalf of two clients whose apartment had been destroyed by fire in 1980. Three years later, after the first client hired another lawyer to inquire into the matter, she received from Manheim a check drawn on his escrow account for the amount of her loss, less his fee. More than three years later, after his other client filed a complaint with the State Bar of Georgia, she received from Manheim a check drawn on his escrow account for the full amount of her loss. Despite repeated requests, neither client received any documentation of the purported settlement. This situation became a disciplinary matter.
2. (a) The special master concluded that Manheim violated Standards 4, 44, 45, and 63, and recommended a one-year suspension.
(b) The review panel found as follows:
After their initial meeting with Respondent, both clients called Respondent regularly to determine the status of their cases. When they reached Respondent, he assured them that things were moving towards a resolution. For three years, however, there was no resolution to either case. Although both clients spoke to Respondent occasionally during the three years which it took Respondent to settle the cases, Respondent never followed through with the promises which he made to his clients during their conversations. For example, although both clients repeatedly requested that Respondent tell them the names of the insurance companies with which he allegedly was negotiating, Respondent never revealed them. Both clients requested that Respondent provide them with copies of correspondence between him and the insurance companies, which Respondent never did.
(c) The review panel concluded that Manheim violated Standards 45 and 63. It recommended that he be suspended for a minimum period of one year, and that Manheim should not be permitted to resume the practice of law until he should provide to the State Bar of Georgia an accounting of the source and disposition of the funds collected by him on behalf of the two clients.
(d) Manheim filed exceptions to the review panel's recommendations, and appeared through his attorney at the oral argument of his appeal.
3. The record of the case establishes that:
(a) both clients testified that they received no documents concerning any insurance settlement that might have come into Manheim's possession;
(b) on two occasions during discovery, the State Bar of Georgia requested that Manheim disclose all such records; 2
(c) at the evidentiary hearing, Manheim refused to answer questions concerning any insurance settlement. Instead, he attempted to assert a statutory privilege. 3
4. (a) Standard 63 provides:
A lawyer shall maintain complete records of all funds, securities, and other properties of a client coming into the possession of the lawyer and promptly render appropriate accounts to his client regarding them. A violation of this Standard may be punished by disbarment.
(b) For a protracted period of time, and until this day, Manheim has failed and refused to provide to his clients any one of the following basic elements of information: the name of any insurance company involved; the terms of any settlement; copies of any instrument accomplishing a release or discharge of any claims; a description of any transfer of any settlements funds.
(c) Manheim, an experienced attorney, has been subjected to discipline for similar conduct in the past. 4
Notwithstanding that, his entire course of conduct in this matter is marked by furtiveness, evasion, and guile. We need look no further than the Preamble to the Code of Professional Responsibility to conclude that this conduct falls far beneath an acceptable standard. 5
Accordingly, we sustain the review panel's finding that Manheim has violated Standard 63.
5. We approve the recommendation of the review panel, and order that Alan C. Manheim be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year, commencing on February 1, 1990. Additionally, that suspension shall continue in force until (a) Manheim shall have provided to the State Bar of Georgia a complete and verified accounting of any source and any disposition of any funds collected by him on behalf of these two clients, and (b) such accounting is accepted and approved by the State Bar of Georgia.
Hylton B. Dupree, Jr., for Manheim.