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Chief Disciplinary Counsel v. Rozbicki

Supreme Court of Connecticut

September 5, 2017

CHIEF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL
v.
ZBIGNIEW S. ROZBICKI

          Argued May 2, 2017

         Procedural History

         Presentment by the plaintiff for alleged professional misconduct by the defendant, brought to the Superior Court inthe judicial district of Litchfield and transferred to the judicial district of Hartford, where the court, Robaina, J., denied the defendant's motion to dismiss; thereafter the matter was tried to the court, Robaina, J.; judgment suspending the defendant from the practice of law for four years, from which the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Zbigniew S. Rozbicki, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Leanne M. Larson, assistant chief disciplinary counsel, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria and Vertefeuille, Js.

         Syllabus

         The defendant, against whom a presentment action was filed by the plaintiff, Chief Disciplinary Counsel, appealed from the judgment of the trial court suspending him from the practice of law for four years. The court found, inter alia, that he had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by accusing two Superior Court judges of bias, prejudice, and partiality during certain previous civil proceedings. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court deprived him of his constitutional right to due processby admitting evidence regarding his prior disciplinary record, the allegations set forth in the presentment complaint were barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, the plaintiff had failed to prove professional misconduct by clear and convincing evidence, and the trial court had abused its discretion by suspending him for a period of four years. Held:

State v.
Golding 213 Conn. 233

2. The defendant could not prevail on his claim that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel barred the allegations of professional misconduct set forth in the presentment complaint; this court concluded that, because the judges presiding over the previous proceedings declined to exercise jurisdiction, the question of whether the defendant's actions violated the Rules of Professional Conduct had not been litigated, and, therefore, the allegations set forth in the presentment complaint were not barred.

4. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering that the defendant be suspended from the practice of law for a period of four years; the trial court had properly considered various aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the appropriate sanction for the defendant's professional misconduct and, therefore, had acted within the broad discretion afforded to the Superior Court in the context of attorney grievance proceedings.

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, J.

         The defendant, Zbigniew S. Rozbicki, an Attorney, appeals[1] from the judgment of the trial court, rendered following presentment by the plaintiff, Chief Disciplinary Counsel, concluding that he had violated rules 3.1, 8.2 (a), and 8.4 (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct[2] and suspending him from the practice of law for a period of four years. In challenging the trial court's judgment, the defendant raises a multitude of claims, including the following: (1) that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process; (2) that the allegations in the presentment were barred under the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel; (3) that the plaintiff failed to prove professional misconduct by clear and convincing evidence; and (4) that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a four year suspension without considering certain factors set forth in the American Bar Association's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (standards). We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. The grievance arises from the defendant's accusations of judicial bias, prejudice, and partiality against two judges of the Superior Court, namely, Judge Vincent E. Roche and Judge John A. Danaher. The accusations were made in various motions, memoranda, and oral argument submitted and presented by the defendant throughout extensive litigation relating to his position as an executor of the estate of Kathleen Gisselbrecht (decedent).[3] The defendant filed several actions against members of the decedent's family, two of which are most relevant to the present appeal.

         In the first case, the defendant appealed from a decision of the Probate Court regarding his final accounting as executor of the estate. See Rozbicki v. Gisselbrecht, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV-10-5007246-S (February 10, 2014). In that case, the defendant filed a motion to stay certain orders pending resolution of a separate but related matter. That motion was denied by Judge Roche. In response, the defendant filed a motion to disqualify Judge Roche, accusing him of failing ‘‘to adhere to basic principles of judicial impartiality . . . .'' In an affidavit filed in support of that motion, the defendant averred that Judge Roche's ruling indicated ‘‘a transformation of a judge who has a duty to be impartial, to a judge who appears to be an advocate . . . .''[4] The defendant subsequently moved to disqualify Attorney J. Michael Sco-nyers, who represented certain members of the decedent's family. Judge Danaher denied that motion. In response, the defendant moved to disqualify Judge Danaher, claiming partiality, bias, and prejudice. Judge Danaher also denied that motion.

         In the second case, the defendant alleged that the successor executor of the decedent's estate improperly denied a $20, 000 claim in connection with a loan that the defendant had allegedly made to the decedent. See Rozbicki v. Gisselbrecht, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV-10-6001830-S (December 19, 2011). In that case, the defendant filed another motion to disqualify Attorney Sconyers, which Judge Danaher denied. The defendant thereafter made an oral motion to disqualify Judge Danaher, which was also denied. The defendant subsequently filed a written motion to disqualify Judge Danaher, claiming ‘‘bias, prejudice, and partiality . . . .'' Judge Danaher later denied this motion in a detailed memorandum of decision.

         On December 19, 2011, Judge Rochegranted the executor's motion for summary judgment regarding the defendant's claims for fees and payment of the $20, 000 loan. See Rozbicki v. Gisselbrecht, supra, Superior Court, Docket No. CV-10-6001830-S. The defendant subsequently moved to reargue a previous decision by Judge Danaher denying, inter alia, a motion for an order of compliance in connection with a dispute regarding a deposition. In his motion to reargue, the defendant claimed that Judge Danaher's decision (1) was ‘‘ridden with indications of a bias and prejudice . . . so blatant and beyond the parameters of judicial authority and responsibility that the decision cannot legally or ethically be sanctioned, '' (2) demonstrated ‘‘abuse of judicial power to prejudge matters and cases not before the court and raises substantial issues of impropriety and partiality, '' (3) ‘‘manifested a bias and prejudice to the [defendant] and harassment [that] violated [his] constitutional right of access to the courts and [to] a fair trial, '' (4) brought the ‘‘judiciary into disrepute, '' and (5) indicated an intent ‘‘to affect and impair the outcome of other pending cases . . . .''

         The defendant then filed an objection to a motion for an order regarding certain deposition costs filed by opposing counsel. In that objection, the defendant accused Judge Danaher of bias, prejudice, judicial impropriety, abuse of judicial authority, and judicial misconduct. The defendant subsequently moved to reargue Judge Roche's decision granting summary judgment. In that motion to reargue, the defendant again accused Judge Danaher of acting extrajudicially and in a biased manner. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to ‘‘vacate [an] extrajudicial order, '' accusing Judge Danaher of becoming an advocate for the opposing party, evoking profound bias and prejudice, failing to uphold and apply the law, failing to be fair and impartial, and taking a personal interest in the proceedings.

         In response to these serious and repetitive accusations against Judges Roche and Danaher, Attorney Sco-nyers filed a grievance against the defendant with the Statewide Grievance Committee on January 11, 2012. After a hearing, the Litchfield Judicial District Grievance Panel determined that there was probable cause to believe that the defendant had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. The matter was presented to the Statewide Grievance Committee at a hearing on February 5, 2013, during which the defendant, represented by counsel, testified. Thirty-seven exhibits were admitted during that proceeding, and both the defendant and the plaintiff filed a posthearing brief.

         On July 26, 2013, the Statewide Grievance Committee found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant's ‘‘improper, baseless accusations'' against Judges Roche and Danaher violated rules 3.1, 8.2 (a), and 8.4 (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Statewide Grievance Committee directed the plaintiff to file a presentment against the defendant ...


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