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Legal Ethics

Six Verrill Dana Lawyers Face Possible Discipline re Ex-Chair’s $300K Theft

Posted Dec 13, 2010 6:41 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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After a secretary blew the whistle on her boss, John Duncan, other lawyers at a prominent Maine firm looked into the matter, eventually determined that the longtime senior lawyer and former chair of Verrill Dana had stolen some $300,000, and they ousted him.

But it took about four months for them to get to the bottom of what was going on. And that has put six of Duncan's former colleagues at Verrill Dana on the hot seat. The then-managing partner and five members of the firm's executive board are being tried this week in an attorney ethics case.

The trial began today and is expected to last several days concerning their response to the secretary's suspicions, reported in 2007, that Duncan had stolen money from an elderly client, explain a MBPN audio report and the Portland Press Herald.

In addition, she also alleged that Duncan was having a gay affair and had been viewing pornography on firm's computer system, and that made the complex situation more difficult to unravel, according to testimony today, the news reports say.

Duncan admitted that he had violated the firm's computer policy but it wasn't clear at that point that he had been involved in financial wrongdoing, testified David Warren, then the firm's managing partner.

"I was worried that he was on the edge of committing suicide," Warren testified, saying that Duncan, that summer, often sat alone in his office reading the Bible. "I did not want to be responsible for pushing him over the edge."

The trial, on behalf of the Maine Board of Bar Overseers, is being conducted in Lewiston District Court by Justice Donald Alexander of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

In addition to being criminally convicted and sentenced to serve time, Duncan was also disbarred for life in the harshest such sanction ever imposed on a Maine lawyer, the Press Herald reports. His conduct reportedly had nothing to do with any disarray in his personal life or financial affairs and emanated from an irrational desire to save more money.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Secretary to Axed Partner Plans Whistle-Blower Suit"

ABAJournal.com: "More Verrill Dana Fallout re Former Partner’s Alleged $400K Theft"

ABAJournal.com: "Ex-Chair of Prominent Maine Firm Gets 2 Years in Tax Case"

Portland Press Herald: "Board seeks sanctions against six lawyers"

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