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Hanover Lawyer Gets N.H. Suspension for Conflict of Interest

Concord — A state disciplinary committee has ordered the suspension of a veteran Hanover lawyer for six months over a conflict of interest case, reaffirming a position members took in 2011.

In response, K. William Clauson filed a motion earlier this week to appeal the Feb. 14 decision of the Professional Conduct Committee, which disciplines Granite State attorneys and falls under the purview of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Clauson has previously said, “Yes, I did something wrong, but nobody was hurt by that, and I was honest about it,” according to his appeal.

The decision and subsequent appeal follow a handful of proceedings since 2010, when the state’s Attorney Discipline Office said Clauson, who is in his late 60s, represented both a husband and wife in a domestic violence case in 2009. The court determined Clauson’s joint representation was a conflict of interest.

The case against Clauson moved from the Professional Conduct Committee to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which last summer narrowed the case against Clauson and sent it back to the committee.

“Our focus has not been on punishing Mr. Clauson,” the committee’s decision reads, “but on protecting the public and maintaining public confidence in the bar.”

Clauson’s six-month suspension is set to take effect on May 1, though that could change depending on the outcome of his appeal.

According to Janet DeVito, assistant general counsel at the Attorney Discipline Office, the conduct committee has not yet filed a response, and there is no hearing currently scheduled.

“(The committee) will have to see whether he’s given them any arguments in his motion to make them reconsider,” Devito said.

The case arises from a 2009 case where Clauson represented the wife of an Orford man who had been arrested in a misdemeanor domestic violence case. The defendant was released on bail, with one of the conditions being to not contact or go near his wife or their teenage daughter, who was at the house during the alleged incident.

Clauson represented the wife, who said she did not consider herself a victim, according to Supreme Court documents, and wanted to lift the no-contact portion of her husband’s bail order so he could come back home.

On June 30, 2009, Clauson represented both the wife, who was still trying to get the no-contact order lifted, and then her husband, who was arraigned on the two charges of misdemeanor simple assault the same day. The bail order was eventually lifted.

“Well, doesn’t anybody else here besides me see a potential conflict between counsel for the defendant and counsel for the victim being the same person?” Lebanon District Court Judge Albert Cirone said that day.

Cirone ultimately referred the matter to the Attorney Discipline Office, which kick-started the investigation. That was after Clauson filed a motion that Cirone recuse himself from the case — which he did — citing their past dealings when they were in private practice.

The conduct committee’s first call for a six-month suspension, issued in 2011, found Clauson had violated rules relating to conflict of interest and competency in representing clients. He appealed the decision and it made its way to the state Supreme Court, which disagreed with the committee’s ruling in part but upheld two findings related to conflict of interest and sent the case back to the conduct committee for reconsideration.

Following oral arguments on Dec. 11, 2012, the committee stood by its initial order. Clauson filed his appeal on Monday, laying out seven different points he feels the committee “overlooked or misapprehended.”

These include his assertions that the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate some of the supposed violations should lead to a reduced penalty; that the committee decision incorrectly asserted that Clauson doesn’t acknowledge he did something wrong; and that a six-month penalty for the violations he committed would be “unprecedented.”

Reached at his office yesterday, Clauson declined to comment on specific details but referred a reporter to his appeal of the conduct committee’s order.

“They’ve got a lot of mistakes in it,” Clauson said.

According to a New Hampshire Attorney Discipline System database, 31 attorneys have received six-month suspensions since Jan. 1, 2004, and 16 more have been given longer-term suspensions. In the Granite State, 40 lawyers have been disbarred in that time period.

Clauson has had five other disciplinary run-ins during his more than 40-year career, including a reprimand in 1996 for a conflict of interest, and a 1987 reprimand for deceit, misrepresentation and threatening a complaint.

Clauson said he doesn’t currently have a plan of action if the appeal doesn’t work out and the suspension goes into effect on May 1.

“My plan was to read and respond — I did,” Clauson said. “Now my plan is to wait and see what happens next.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.