Attorney could get 180-day suspension

Last modified: 5/19/2010 12:00:00 AM
A Dunbarton attorney could be suspended from practicing law for six months after a state disciplinary panel found he violated New Hampshire's rules of conduct for lawyers.

Paul Bruzga appeared yesterday before the Professional Conduct Committee in Concord as the body considers what sanctions he should face. The committee is expected to issue a written decision in a month or two.

A five-member hearing panel, part of the state's attorney discipline system, found in December that Bruzga violated the rules of professional conduct by giving bad advice to a client in a case involving Medicaid repayment and continuing to represent and bill the client after a conflict of interest arose.

The panel recommended a six-month suspension for Bruzga. In a filing with the committee, Bruzga's lawyer said the alleged violations only warrant a public censure.

Bruzga and his attorney, David Horan, declined to comment after yesterday's oral arguments before the panel.

This isn't the first time Bruzga, who has practiced law in the state since 1978 and works from an office in Dunbarton, has been disciplined. In March, the PCC suspended him for six months for mishandling money in a land sale but stayed the suspension for a year on the condition that he complete ethics training.

And a decade ago, Bruzga was suspended for a year for his actions during a contentious custody battle with his ex-wife.

In that case, the then-Committee on Professional Conduct sought to disbar him, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that he should face a one-year suspension instead for court filings in which Bruzga 'knowingly exaggerated facts and omitted material detail . . . to a point of perverting the truth.'

In the case now before the PCC, Bruzga was appointed in May 2005 to represent the interests of George Doherty, a hospitalized man, as his brother Steven Doherty was appointed his temporary guardian.

Bruzga helped set up a Special Needs Trust for George Doherty, which would allow him to receive Medicaid coverage on the condition that the state would be reimbursed for the medical expenses using the trust fund after his death. Steven Doherty was named trustee.

George Doherty died Sept. 26, 2005, with about $50,000 in the trust and more than $74,000 in Medicaid expenses, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel James Kruse wrote in a filing laying out the charges against Bruzga.

But no bill arrived, and Steven Doherty paid the trust money to himself and his sister after consulting Bruzga, Kruse wrote. Bruzga continued to advise, do work for and bill Doherty as the attorney general's office opened a criminal investigation. The dispute was later settled in mediation.

Bruzga was representing Steven Doherty and 'demonstrated lack of competence with respect to his advice and counsel concerning Medicaid repayment obligations,' the hearing panel determined. The panel also decided a conflict of interest arose when the attorney general's office began investigating.

Bruzga, for his part, denies he even had an attorney-client relationship with Steven Doherty.

'Here, Paul is representing the ward,' Horan said at yesterday's hearing. 'The ward is in a coma at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (Medical Center). He has to talk to family members, he has to talk to the trustee that was appointed, he needs to talk to the guardian. The fact that he is talking with the guardian, Steve, on a regular basis doesn't necessarily mean that he's Steve's lawyer.'

Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.




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