Grievance complaints were dismissed Friday against five Connecticut attorneys who have done business with Total Attorneys Inc. of Chicago.
A Norwich, Conn., bankruptcy attorney filed grievances against 12 attorneys in Connecticut and more than 550 attorneys in 47 total states claiming that attorneys participating in the Total Attorneys network are paying for referrals, which is a felony offense in this state.
Connecticut-licensed attorneys Matthew Rousseau, Gregg Wagman, Steven Lesko, Kenneth Lenz and Russell Small all have been cleared by the Statewide Grievance Committee. It's likely that the other seven complaints, including one against Manchester attorney and State Rep. Ryan Barry, will be dismissed similarly, though a time table isn't evident.
The short summary decision offered no insight into the three-person hearing committee's logic behind the decision. A full-length decision is due in two weeks. Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mark Dubois declined to comment until the full decision is released.
Connecticut was the only state to hold formal hearings on the matter. Those hearings occurred in November. Several other states had decided to take no action on the complaints.
For defendants who have been part of a massive ethics complaint that was launched last spring, Friday afternoon offered a lot of peace of mind.
"We're delighted with the decision and hope it ends this particularly difficult piece of legal history," said Raymond Garcia of Garcia & Milas, who was local counsel for Total Attorneys.
Kimberly A. Knox and Brendon P. Levesque from the high-powered Hartford, Conn., appellate firm Horton, Shields & Knox represented Wagman and Lenz. Levesque said it's "been a crazy ride."
Levesque added, "We are thrilled that Connecticut has dismissed the grievance complaints. Our position has always been that this is simply lawyer advertising."
The company operates numerous Web sites for different practice areas that all work the same way: Attorneys pay $65 to receive leads on potential clients who enter their zip code and other contact information through the Web site.
There's no guarantee that the leads will turn into paying clients. Total Attorneys says its business model allows lawyers, who are mainly solo and small firm practitioners, to pool resources and pay for group advertising online.