Court Suspends Rather than Disbars N.H. Lawyer for Insurance Fraud

November 2, 2007

A New Hampshire lawyer who admitted to insurance fraud has been suspended for two years. The Supreme Court punishment was longer than one conduct committee recommended for James Grew, but much less than that suggested by the state’s Attorney Discipline Office, which wanted him disbarred.

In rejecting disbarment, the court cited mitigating circumstances in Grew’s case, and similar, less harsh punishment, for other lawyers involved in wrongdoing.

In a plea bargain, Grew, of North Hampton, pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor insurance fraud charge, after being indicted on a felony, for falsely reporting that he was driving an insured vehicle when he hit and damaged a parked car.

According to the ruling, Grew was driving an uninsured vehicle during the accident, but reported to his insurance company that he was in another, insured vehicle, to avoid paying nearly $2,000 in damages to the other driver. The ruling said he also called the damaged car’s owner several times to try to influence his recollection of the accident.

The other driver had the license number and description of the van actually involved in the accident, and reported the information. When called on the deception by the insurance company, Grew paid for the damage, then was indicted on the fraud charge.

The court found that the conviction was a serious crime and sent the case to the state’s Professional Conduct Committee, which suspended Grew for six months. The state Attorney Discipline Office, which oversees attorney conduct cases, appealed to the court, arguing Grew should have been disbarred.

The high court agreed that disbarment is “generally” the sanction for lawyers who engage in fraud, as long as mitigating issues are not involved. It agreed Grew acted with intent to defraud, lied and was selfish, but said other factors influenced its decision.

For instance, it said Grew’s personal and financial problems at the time were partly to blame, the incident was an isolated event and his court sentence of suspended jail time and a fine must be considered as part of the punishment.

It also said other lawyers suffered less than disbarment in serious cases. In one case, it said a lawyer was suspended for one year after he orchestrated and tolerated inaccurate and incomplete answers under oath. Another was suspended for a year for submitting an abuse and neglect petition against his ex-wife to harass her.

The court said Grew’s two-year suspension will run from May 2006, the date he initially was suspended.

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