PORTLAND (AP) – A longtime partner in Verrill Dana LLP, one of Maine’s largest and most prestigious law firms, has been fired after allegedly stealing money from clients and the firm.

The Portland-based firm sent a letter of apology to clients of John Duncan, notifying them that it has “severed its relationship” with him and promising to compensate anyone he had harmed.

The letter said Duncan “misappropriated funds” from the firm and “misused client funds or billed clients improperly.” Verrill Dana did not say how much money was involved.

Duncan has been with the firm for nearly 30 years and primarily handled wills, estates and trusts. He did not return phone messages to his Falmouth home seeking comment. A report on his billing and accounting practices is being turned over to the Maine Board of Bar Overseers, which could move to strip Duncan of his law license.

State and federal prosecutors were alerted after an outside audit revealed possible criminal activity. The alleged misconduct was uncovered in early June by Duncan’s legal secretary, Ellie Rommel, but Duncan remained on the job until Oct. 28.

Verrill Dana could face penalties for not reporting the information sooner, said Gregg Ginn, a partner in the firm who is acting as its spokesman on the matter.

Ginn said the firm had been looking into Rommel’s concerns, but a complete picture of the alleged embezzlement didn’t emerge until October. He said the impact hits multiple clients over a period of years. Insurance will cover some of the losses, Ginn said, but partners expect to pay most of the claims out of pocket. Three lawyers in the firm’s Kennebunk office have quit, citing the scandal, he said. Verrill Dana has about 100 lawyers and 100 other staffers.

Ginn said Duncan served in a fiduciary capacity for about 25 accounts at any given time, which gave him access to bank accounts, and he was a trustee for private trusts. Ginn said Duncan had overbilled clients, taken money from private accounts, and redirected money to himself that was supposed to go to the firm.

Rommel had notified other partners in the firm that Duncan had written $77,500 in checks to himself from one client, but was told the matter would be handled internally, according to her lawyer, Daniel Lilley.

He said the stress of the discovery led Rommel to submit her notice of resignation. She later reconsidered and asked for short-term medical leave, but the request was denied, so she felt forced to leave, Lilley said.

Ginn said there was no retaliation against Rommel, she was not fired and she made the decision to leave. Ginn also praised the secretary for raising the concerns about Duncan, characterized her as “a hero” and said she would be welcome to return as an employee.

Verrill Dana retained the services of three outside firms to review Duncan’s work and to handle any litigation that might result from the situation.


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