Former state representative Garrett Bradley should lose his law license for up to two years after filing “false and misleading” documents in court and failing to correct the errors until a federal judge questioned him, a lawyer argued Tuesday.
US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf referred the case to the Board of Bar Overseers for potential discipline in 2020, though he didn’t name Bradley specifically. Wolf concluded that Bradley’s Thornton Law Firm and others double-billed for some attorneys working on a case and billed for others that didn’t even work for them, boosting their overall legal charges by millions.
“This was a very spectacular failure,” said assistant bar counsel Robert Daniszewski, at a hearing before a three-person panel of the state Board of Bar Overseers, the group that regulates lawyers in Massachusetts.
Bradley “flamboyantly failed to meet the expectations that the public and the bar should have for a lawyer,” he said. Bradley is accused of misconduct and violating several rules of conduct for lawyers including a requirement for honesty in any legal proceeding.
Daniszewski urged the board to find that Bradley, who was managing partner of Thornton at the time, intentionally filed the false statements in a class action securities case against the State Street Bank and Trust Company in 2016 to boost the legal fees awarded in the case. That finding would carry a mandatory two-year suspension, Daniszewski said.
But even if the panel finds the errors were unintentional, Daniszewski said, Bradley’s law license should still be suspended. He said it would be up to the board to determine the length of any suspension.
Bradley, a Hingham Democrat who served as second assistant majority leader in the Legislature until 2016, apologized repeatedly for his mistakes, including not reading a document that was full of misstatements before he signed and submitted it under oath.
“It was a stupid sloppy mistake that I made six years ago,” he said. “In that one moment, I forgot all of my training as a lawyer. It was a really terrible mistake.”
Wolf ordered hearings on potential misconduct in the class action lawsuit by Thornton as well as several other law firms including New York-based Labaton Sucharow in February 2017 after the Globe Spotlight team uncovered schemes that appeared intended to inflate legal fees in December 2016.
Wolf also found that Bradley improperly listed his brother as an attorney on the case, running up a bill of more than $200,000 even though Michael Bradley played a limited role.
The judge concluded the lawyers’ misconduct in the class action case was so “egregious” he was required to send the decision to the state Board of Bar Overseers for possible disciplinary action.
“The United States has a proud history of honorable, trustworthy lawyers,” Wolf wrote. “However, this case demonstrates that not all lawyers can be trusted when they are seeking millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees.”
He appointed a special master to look into the case and ordered Thornton and two other firms to pay for the investigation — more than $5 million.
He also ordered Thornton and two other firms to repay $15 million of the $75 million in legal fees awarded in the case. The rest of the $300 million settlement with the bank was distributed to members of the class — mostly large retirement systems.
Bradley said he wasn’t aware of the many problems with the document related to legal fees in the class action case until Wolf brought them to his attention in February 2017. He said he didn’t believe there were major issues with the document even after the Globe described them in December 2016.
In a filing with the board, his lawyer said that in 2017 he was focused on other issues — though he didn’t say what they were. Thornton, a politically connected firm that had long been a leading donor to Democratic candidates, was under investigation at the time for an alleged illegal campaign donation scheme. Under the arrangement, Thornton partners made political donations and were then reimbursed by the firm. No charges were ever brought.
“Mr. Bradley was going through a period of great personal turmoil and stress,” his lawyer, George Vien, wrote in a filing to the board.
Vien argued Tuesday that Bradley has already been punished enough.
“Mr. Bradley has been living under this cloud since almost six years ago. He has admitted his mistake... He’s not trying to blame anyone else. He’s taken full responsibility for it. We can all be sure that it will never happen again.”
But if the Board of Bar Overseers decides discipline is warranted, Vien argued, a public admonition would be enough.
Bradley left the Thornton law firm in April, he said, and is now serving as counsel for Labaton, working out of offices in Boston and New York. He resigned from the House of Representatives in the summer of 2016.
Before the board makes a decision, it will review documents that the bar counsel and Bradley’s lawyer must submit by Dec. 30.
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.