A judge has suspended a Windsor attorney for one year for allegedly misrepresenting himself as a different attorney during a police investigation more than a decade ago.
Hartford Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina imposed the sanction on Joseph Elder in a decision dated July 28. Robaina wrote that Elder misrepresented himself at the expense of another attorney, and the judge called Elder’s conduct “deceitful and dishonest.”
“[Elder's] refusal to accept responsibility for his actions has been the hallmark of his behavior throughout this incident,” Robaina wrote.
The suspension will be effective as of Sept. 1. Elder will have to apply for reinstatement. Robaina indicated that Elder will have to submit evidence of having passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination before reinstatement will be considered.
Elder, who was admitted to the bar in 1985, has maintained to the Connecticut Law Tribune that he never represented himself to be retired attorney Wesley Spears. Reached following Robaina’s decision, Elder said, “I am very disappointed,” and added that he is considering an appeal.
The Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel had filed a presentment against Elder in March. It arose out of an April 2014 grievance complaint filed by Spears against Elder over a July 26, 2004, incident involving police.
Two Plainville police officers approached the home of Erik Krajewski, a client of Elder, to execute a search warrant. The warrant was pending, but police prevented Krajewski from entering the home, according to court documents.
Krajewski contacted Elder, who advised him the officers could not enter without a warrant. Krajewski forced his way into the house, a struggle ensued, and an officer injured his arm. Krajewski began destroying evidence. A police supervisor, Sgt. Dean Cyr, asked Krajewski why he entered the home, and he indicated he did so on the advice of counsel, but would not provide the counsel’s name, documents show.
Cyr seized Krajewski’s cellphone and answered an incoming call, but the caller hung up when Cyr identified himself. The next day, Cyr called the last telephone number that appeared on Krajewski’s phone and posed as a prospective client. According to court documents and the presentment, Elder answered the phone and identified himself as “Wes Spears.”
On Aug. 25, 2004, Cyr called the phone number again and identified himself and said, “Attorney Spears?” Elder reportedly said, “Who?” and Cyr again asked, “Attorney Spears?” and Elder said, “Yes,” according to the presentment.
Cyr applied for an arrest warrant against Spears, but it was denied. Cyr also filed a grievance against Spears, because he mistakenly believed that Spears was the attorney to whom he had spoken. The Statewide Grievance Committee conducted an investigation and discovered the impersonation, and that grievance complaint was dismissed.
But in 2014, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Beth Baldwin wrote, a reviewing committee of the Statewide Grievance Committee found Elder committed unethical conduct and violated the rules of professional conduct by misrepresenting himself to the police sergeant as another attorney and failing to correct the misrepresentation, which hindered a criminal investigation. It also caused a grievance to be filed against the wrong person and caused an arrest warrant to be pursued against the wrong person, according to Baldwin.
In the Superior Court ruling, Robaina agreed that Elder violated the rules of professional conduct by misrepresenting himself to a third person in the course of his representation of a client. “The court finds that [Elder] failed to correct the misrepresentation at any time, despite having had ample opportunity to do so,” the decision stated. Robaina wrote that Elder’s testimony and argument “suggest that he is blind to the consequences and events which his actions have set in motion. His oft-repeated claim that Spears has not suffered is simply wrong.”
Spears sued Elder, alleging defamation and fraud. At a trial in 2006, a jury awarded Spears $74,405 in damages, a verdict which was upheld on appeal.
Spears later obtained Elder’s property on Sydney Avenue in West Hartford through a foreclosure action. Spears has accused Elder of deliberately damaging the house to prevent him from recouping money he is owed. The house is Spears’ sole source of recovery because Elder declared for bankruptcy, said Spears’ attorney in this matter, Kevin Burns of West Hartford.
In June, because of the damage to the house, Spears filed a motion in Superior Court in Hartford asking the court to either rescind the order approving a judgment of foreclosure by sale or order Spears to be entitled to a refund of the $75,000 on deposit with the court. A hearing in the foreclosure case is scheduled for Aug. 27 in Superior Court in Hartford.
After the July 28 Superior Court ruling, Spears said he doubts Elder “ever practices law again.”
“He would have to make restitution to me before he could be readmitted, and given his bankruptcy, I think he would have a hard time paying restitution,” Spears said. According to Spears, Elder had been offered a reprimand instead of a suspension if he had admitted the impersonation.