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Hiding the fact of a client’s death from opposing counsel is not only inconsiderate, it’s unethical, in the opinion of New London, Conn., Superior Court Judge Robert A. Martin, who has upheld a reprimand against Groton lawyer Peter J. Bartinik Sr. for that very transgression, among others. Ruling last month, Martin also ordered Bartinik to pay his courtroom adversary more than $5,000 for her time spent working on the underlying case, Parker v. Slosberg, after the misconduct occurred. A partner at Bartinik Gianacoplos Bates Brown & Grater, Bartinik had represented Madolyn Parker in a will dispute. On Sept. 7, 2000, he met opposing counsel Renee M. Houle, of New London’s Kanabis & Houle, at court to hash out a settlement in the case. When Houle inquired about Parker, Bartinik told her his client was waiting back at his office and would be brought to court in time for jury selection. The two attorneys then struck an agreement. Houle, however, told Bartinik that her clients would only accept a signed release from Parker. Houle claims she and Bartinik stipulated to the agreement on the record after Bartinik assured her he would have Parker sign the release at a later time. The only problem was Parker died the day before. Martin found Bartinik learned of his client’s death earlier that morning, but never mentioned it to Houle. It wasn’t until later that day or the day after that Houle found out about Parker’s death from another attorney in Houle’s office, she told the court. Bartinik then compounded his problems by fighting a motion filed by Houle to open the stipulated judgment entered in the case due to either mutual mistake or misrepresentation. He twice failed to respond to faxes from Houle concerning the motion. On Sept. 29, 2000, Bartinik informed Houle that he knew Parker was dead before their Sept. 7 meeting. That same day Bartinik filed an objection to Houle’s motion to open the judgment and five motions to quash subpoenas issued by Houle. Judge Martin found, “After having two pretrial meetings with the presiding judge and reviewing the applicable law, Bartinik consented to the opening … on Nov. 13, 2000, and withdrew his claim to enforce the settlement.” In an interview, Bartinik said he’s “accepting the judge’s decision as final. I have no plans to appeal.” Bartinik said he proposed a reprimand and the payment of Houle’s fees at a November 2001 hearing before the Statewide Grievance Committee. The SGC had sought a one-year suspension of Bartinik’s law license. But Martin considered Bartinik’s unblemished 37-year career, and ruled he wasn’t acting from a dishonest or selfish motive. The judge noted that it was “difficult for this court to find that Bartinik’s misconduct caused substantial injury to the litigants.” But he wrote, “it cannot be disputed that an attorney with Bartinik’s experience . . . should have known better.” Martin also was impressed by the testaments from 20 “prominent attorneys” who wrote letters in support of Bartinik. “Suspension, in light of all the circumstances of this case, would disproportionately disrupt Bartinik’s personal and professional life, and deprive both his junior [lawyers] and their clients of his valuable experience.” Bartinik acknowledged, in a May 2001 letter to the local grievance committee, that “my instincts to represent a client fairly may have turned into overzealous conduct.” In later testimony, Bartinik claimed ignorance of the law. But Martin said Bartinik failed to explain his inexcusable behavior in a convincing manner. Still, “this court believes that Bartinik is remorseful and, frankly, embarrassed by his misconduct, as he should be,” the judge wrote.

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