On Monday, January 8, 2024, attorneys Lewis J. Cohn and John J. Dussi received a public reprimand from the Board of Bar Overseers of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for violations of trust account rules.

The case is entitled “Bar Counsel v. Lewis J. Cohn and John J. Dussi,” with case numbers C1-19-257309 and C1-19-257310.

Cohn and Dussi, partners at the Boston law firm Cohn & Dussi, failed to properly maintain their client trust accounts over several years. They did not perform the required three-way reconciliations of their IOLTA accounts every 60 days as mandated by the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. They also failed to promptly distribute funds to clients and third parties, allowing money to languish in accounts for years in some cases.

Their accounting issues first came to the attention of bar counsel in 2013 after their bank reported a dishonored check from one of the firm’s trust accounts. The bar counsel investigated and notified Cohn and Dussi that their records did not comply with rules regarding account ledgers, individual client records, and reconciliations. Over the next year, the attorneys submitted non-compliant records on multiple occasions despite instructions on proper procedures.

Problems persisted until 2018 when a hacker stole funds from four of the firm’s IOLTA accounts over the course of a month. Cohn and Dussi did not detect the unauthorized transfers for weeks. When they did, they failed to immediately notify authorities or their malpractice insurer. They also did not move to replenish the stolen sums until directed by bar counsel half a year later.

An investigation by the bar counsel found that three of the firm’s IOLTA accounts contained hundreds of uncleared checks dating back many years that had not been cashed, totaling over $111,000. Cohn and Dussi blamed past employees but took responsibility.

In recommending a sanction, a hearing committee found long-lasting violations of rules regarding reconciliations, client funds distribution, and notice of fee withdrawals. However, it stopped short of a public reprimand, suggesting an admonition would suffice. Bar counsel appealed, arguing the offenses merited harsher discipline given the attorneys’ experience and ongoing noncompliance even after prior interventions.

The Board of Bar Overseers agreed with most of the hearing committee’s findings and conclusions of law but departed on the appropriate sanction. Due to the persistent nature of the violations, which deprived clients of the use of their own funds, and in light of past efforts to instruct the attorneys, the Board imposed a public reprimand. One member dissented, favoring a private admonition like the hearing committee.

The disposition states:

“In light of the persistent carelessness in performing the basic task of balancing their IOLTA accounts, we impose a public reprimand on the respondents”

According to Avvo, Mr. Cohn is a banking attorney in Woburn, Massachusetts. He graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 1988 and obtained his law license in Massachusetts the following year. Mr. Dussi is an attorney in Woburn, Massachusetts, and obtained his law license in Massachusetts in 1985.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.