A Wilton 12-year-old named Danny finds himself in the middle of an attorney misconduct controversy that has the potential to change Connecticut\u2019s attorney disciplinary system. The case involves millions of dollars and \u201csome of the best-known and well-connected attorneys in Connecticut,\u201d according to a press release from Connecticut-based legal malpractice attorney Howard Altschuler. \u201cDanny D\u2019Attilo appears to be the victim of a system of attorney self-regulation that is turning a blind eye to allegations of unethical conduct of Danny\u2019s former attorneys\u201d \u2014\u00a0Day Pitney and Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder \u2014 \u201cwho are being treated as if they are too big to discipline,\u201d the press release further states. In May 2011, a jury awarded $58.6 million \u2014 the largest medical malpractice award in Connecticut history \u2014 to Danny and his parents, Cathy and Domenic D\u2019Attilo, as a result of a doctor\u2019s negligence which left Danny \u201cseverely disabled at birth and cut his life expectancy more than half,\u201d according to the press release. The medical malpractice parties settled in January 2012 for $25 million in order to avoid an appeal. Altschuler told The Bulletin he was approached by Danny\u2019s parents in May 2014 because \u201camong other things, they were afraid their prior attorneys had not protected Danny\u2019s future\u201d and \u201cthey wanted to make sure Danny was never institutionalized and would always live at home.\u201d \u201cThe trust set up by Day Pitney did not address this critical issue. Instead, the trust envisioned that the remaining assets after all the D\u2019Attilos passed away would go into a foundation overseen by Brad Gallant of Day Pitney for an unspecified amount of trustee fees,\u201d Altschuler said. \u201cIt was likely, based upon actuarial tables and projected costs, that the foundation would have millions of dollars in it.\u201d Altschuler said the D\u2019Attilos were also concerned about the huge fees charged by the court-appointed trustees. \u201cThe first trustee, Brad Gallant, had charged about $160,000,\u201d he said, and \u201cDanny\u2019s initial trust was funded with almost $13 million, although the Koskoff firm had presented expert testimony at the medical malpractice trial in May 2011 that Danny would need approximately $8 million to take care of his needs for his entire lifetime.\u201d Day Pitney\u2019s trust fees were determined as a percentage of the funds held in trust, said Altschuler. In a civil complaint filed in New Haven Superior Court and in grievances filed with the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee (SGC), Danny and his parents allege that their attorneys from Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder and Day Pitney conspired to misappropriate $4.34 million in illegal legal fees from the $25 million settlement and then failed to provide proof of more than $600,000 in purported legal expenses. Grievances for a number of related issues were filed against these attorneys, who include a former president of the Connecticut Bar Association and a member of a local grievance panel, who had initially been assigned to review two grievances connected to his own grievance, according to Altschuler. \u201cThe impartiality of the process is further under fire because two of the attorneys were represented by a former chief disciplinary counsel,\u201d according to Altschuler\u2019s press release \u2014\u00a0\u201cthe same person who presented prosecutions to the SGC for six years.\u201d In a recently filed motion with the Connecticut Supreme Court, the D\u2019Attilos are asking the court to \u201creview, investigate, and if necessary, reform the state\u2019s disciplinary system for what the D\u2019Attilos allege is an attorney disciplinary process that leaves Connecticut clients vulnerable to unethical attorneys, with no right to appeal,\u201d according to Altschuler. The D\u2019Attilos filed this motion more than a decade after they signed a retainer agreement with Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, a medical malpractice firm based in Bridgeport, on March 21, 2003. The 2003 agreement specified the exact calculation for fees, which, in this case, was $2.66 million. However, in 2012, Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder deducted $7 million in legal fees. \u201cWhen I was initially retained, I asked the D\u2019Attilos to see the Koskoff retainer agreement, a standard procedure for all of my legal malpractice clients. They did not have a copy,\u201d said Altschuler. \u201cI asked their prior attorneys for a copy of their entire files. When I received the files, I read the retainer agreement, and immediately saw that the retainer agreement clearly stated in black and white that it was subject to the fee cap statute, which meant that for a $25 million settlement, the fee calculation should have been $2.66 million rather than $7 million. I was shocked.\u201d Although the grievance committee found \u201cprobable cause of professional misconduct\u201d against two of the Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder attorneys, \u201cthey are being offered an extraordinary sweetheart deal by Connecticut\u2019s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC),\u201d according to Altschuler\u00a0\u2014 whereby they can avoid any hearing and any further investigation \u201csimply by accepting a slap on the wrist reprimand only for their undocumented $600,000+ in legal expenses.\u201d This offer, according to Altschuler, permits the attorneys to keep the extra $4.34 million in legal fees allegedly misappropriated, as well as the $600,000 or more in expenses they are unable to document to the OCDC. Furthermore, Altschuler said, the OCDC is not investigating Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder\u2019s accounting practices to see if other clients had similar problems. \u201cThere is nothing the D\u2019Attilos can do about this because Connecticut clients do not have the right to appeal any decision of Connecticut\u2019s self-regulated attorney disciplinary system, no matter how bad, unfair, biased, or plainly wrong the decision may be,\u201d said Altschuler. \u201cThe D\u2019Attilos are fighting this injustice.\u201d Self-regulated system In Connecticut\u2019s \u201cself-regulated attorney disciplinary system\u201d Altschuler said, \u201cmost lawmakers are lawyers, and as far as I know, all judges are lawyers, so lawyers are not only making the rules, but they are ultimately enforcing the rules.\u201d \u201cWhile other licensed professions may determine whether someone loses a license, such as a doctor, if there is any appeal, it ends up in court, where judges, who are lawyers, decide,\u201d he said. This is summarized in the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct as: \u201cAlthough other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement.\u201d Connecticut\u2019s grievance system In Connecticut, anyone can file a grievance complaint with the Statewide Grievance Committee (SGC), according to Altschuler, and under certain circumstances, attorneys may have an obligation to report suspected unethical behavior. \u201cThe SGC does an initial review to see whether it falls within certain exceptions that are not subject to grievance,\u201d said Altschuler, \u201cand if so, lets the person who complains know.\u201d Altschuler said a person can \u201cappeal\u201d to the SGC by essentially asking the SGC to reconsider and if it does not fall within one of the exceptions, \u201cthe grievance is forwarded to a local panel to determine whether there is probable cause the attorney committed professional misconduct.\u201d Probable cause is not the same as preponderance of the evidence, said Altschuler, as \u201cthere has to be some reasonable suspicion that the person has engaged in the activity.\u201d \u201cThe local grievance panel does not determine whether the attorney actually engaged in professional misconduct, only whether there is evidence that there is a reasonable suspicion of such misconduct,\u201d he said. While it is not required, Altschuler said, a local panel has the right to hold a hearing, and if the local panel finds there is \u201cno probable cause, currently, the person filing a grievance has absolutely no right to challenge the result no matter what.\u201d However, he said, \u201cthere is a rule \u2026 which states that if the grievance complaint includes criminal allegations, the local panel is required to forward the grievance with the SGC for additional review.\u201d That did not happen in the D\u2019Attilos\u2019 case, said Altschuler, who will be \u201ctaking legal action related to that issue.\u201d Next step Altschuler said the status of the case is \u201can interesting issue\u201d because the civil case is in a state of suspended animation and \u201cthere is not normally a category of cases that are in suspended animation,\u201d making this case \u201cunique in that regard.\u201d The 2003 retainer agreement has an arbitration clause, which the defendants filed a motion to enforce. In other words, Altschuler said, \u201cthey were also acknowledging the viability and enforceability of the other terms of the March 21, 2003 retainer agreement, including the fee calculation.\u201d \u201cThe court granted their motion to stay. However, the arbitration provision in the retainer agreement does not contain any guidance as to who does the arbitration or what the procedures are,\u201d said Altschuler. \u201cAfter the stay was granted, the defendants demanded to do the arbitration in a particular way, but in my view had no right to make that demand.\u201d Altschuler said the defendants then filed a motion to compel arbitration, \u201cexcept they did it the wrong way.\u201d \u201cUnless the defendants now file a motion to compel arbitration the correct way as detailed by the judge in his decision, the process of arbitration will never begin. In other words, technically speaking, if the defendants do nothing and I do nothing, nothing will ever happen in the civil case,\u201d he said. \u201cThis is a crazy outcome that results from a Supreme Court case that does not permit litigants to appeal the granting of the motion to stay. To address this unusual, if not unique situation, I will be taking some legal action related to this in the near future.\u201d As for the grievance, Altschuler said, a Feb. 4, 2016 public hearing is tentatively scheduled. During this hearing, the Statewide Grievance Committee will decide whether to accept the grievance plea bargain made between the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the two respondents. If the committee accepts the offer to let Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder attorneys Kathleen Nastri and Michael Koskoff \u201conly be reprimanded for accounting procedures,\u201d Altschuler said, the D\u2019Attilos have no right to appeal. \u201cThis is part of what we will be challenging in other legal pleadings that will be filed shortly,\u201d said Altschuler. System reform Altschuler said he and his clients hope their case will lead to the reform of Connecticut\u2019s attorney grievance system, \u201cjust as serious concerns regarding probate court led to substantial reforms of Connecticut\u2019s probate court system a few years ago.\u201d \u201cWhen it comes to seeking the reform of the grievance system, and the rights of those who complain about the grievance process, the system seems to be resistant to change,\u201d said Altschuler, who believes that \u201cthe results so far of the D\u2019Attilo grievance requires significant reforms to the grievance system.\u201d In addition to legal action the D\u2019Attilos will soon be instituting, Altschuler said, he and his clients we will contact state legislators on the issue, \u201cto further raise public awareness.\u201d \u201cThe legislative aspect of this is more long-term, and my clients will soon be asking state legislators to conduct the same kind of investigation and analysis of the grievance system that they previously did with the probate system,\u201d he said. In Altschuler\u2019s press release, former secretary of the state Susan Bysiewicz, currently a partner at Pastore & Dailey, commented that \u201cConnecticut\u2019s attorney disciplinary system is clearly broken because it treats attorneys who engage in the same types of misconduct differently.\u201d \u201cThis,\u201d she said, \u201cis an egregious result and the entire system should be reformed immediately.\u201d Altschuler said there currently is no proposed plan to change the state\u2019s attorney discipline system. Click here to\u00a0view the civil complaint. Click here\u00a0to view a copy of the grievance\u00a0(pages 126-167). Click here to view the D'Attilos' Connecticut Supreme Court motion.