December 13, 2010

Ex-manager: Feared for Verrill Dana colleague's life

By Trevor Maxwell tmaxwell@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Updated at 4:55 p.m.

LEWISTON — As David Warren, then managing partner of the Verrill Dana law firm, was looking into the billing practices of lawyer John D. Duncan in the summer of 2007, there were secret aspects of Duncan's private life that apparently made Warren even more concerned about the possibility that Duncan might commit suicide.

Duncan's secretary at the time, Ellie Rommel, not only blew the whistle on him for theft, she told another supervisor that Duncan was involved in a gay affair, that he had used company computers to view pornography, and that he had sent and received inappropriate e-mails.

Testifying today before a Maine Supreme Court justice, Warren said he learned that information in June 2007, at the time Rommel came forward with suspicions that Duncan had stolen money from an elderly client.

Warren said Duncan admitted that he had violated the firm's policies for computer use.

The subsequent investigation of Duncan's financial misconduct showed no connection between his personal life and his theft of money from multiple clients and the firm, such as a blackmail scheme. In court proceedings in 2008, Duncan's lawyer said he was motivated by an irrational fear that he would run out of money.

1:11 p.m.

LEWISTON — The former managing partner at Verrill Dana testified today that the law firm's internal investigation of John D. Duncan's billing practices was slow because he was worried Duncan would kill himself.

David Warren said he believed Duncan's story, which later proved to be a lie, that he had improperly taken money that was supposed to be shared with the full partnership.

"He was basically an emotional wreck," David Warren said this morning during a disciplinary hearing held in front of Justice Donald Alexander of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Warren admitted he dragged his heels before discussing Duncan's misconduct with Duncan's direct supervisor, but said he had good reason to do so.

"I was worried that he was on the edge of committing suicide," Warren said, noting that in the summer of 2007 Duncan was often seen reading the Bible alone in his office.

"I did not want to be responsible for pushing him over the edge."

In hindsight, Warren said, he realized he could have uncovered the full scope of Duncan's misconduct more quickly if he had been thorough. But Warren said he simply believed his law partner and wanted to show him compassion. He denies any wrongdoing in the handling of the matter, and says he did not violate any professional rules.

Warren also said he discussed the matter with Duncan's supervisor, Kurt Klebe, several days before the firm received a letter indicating that Duncan's former secretary intended to sue Verrill Dana on a variety of claims, including wrongful termination.

Warren is expected to continue his testimony this afternoon at Lewiston District Court. He and five other Verrill Dana lawyers are defending themselves against charges brought by the Maine Board of Bar Overseers. J. Scott Davis, the lead lawyer for the board, seeks professional sanctions against the lawyers for their handling of the Duncan matter. Justice Alexander is presiding over the hearings, which are expected to run through Wednesday.

Warren stepped down as managing partner at Verrill Dana but remains with the firm on a part-time basis.

7:56 a.m.

LEWISTON — Disciplinary hearings against six Verrill Dana lawyers are expected to begin today at Lewiston District Court.

A state ethics board is seeking professional sanctions against the lawyers from the Portland firm, on allegations that they mishandled the internal investigation of theft by former partner John D. Duncan three years ago.

Duncan was disbarred and served two years in federal prison for stealing about $300,000 from clients and from the firm. The lifetime disbarment was the toughest sanction ever imposed on a Maine lawyer, and the case shocked the state's legal community.

Justice Donald Alexander of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments from the parties. He alone will decide whether the lawyers broke any professional rules, and whether they should be sanctioned. If Alexander finds that rules were broken, potential sanctions will range from simple reprimand to disbarment.

The lawyers deny any violations of professional rules of conduct.
 

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