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Atty. Kate McCormick to run for Register of Deeds, after her father ‘retires’ from law practice

Kate McCormick's announcement to run for office comes weeks after she took the helm at McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus. On Dec. 22, 2017, her father, Edward McCormick, submitted an Affidavit of Resignation to the Bar seeking permission to surrender his license, an option open to attorneys under disciplinary investigation by the Bar.

Great Barrington — Kate McCormick, daughter and longtime law partner of disciplined attorney and former town moderator Edward McCormick, is gearing up to run for public office.

The Great Barrington town clerk’s office has confirmed to The Edge that McCormick has taken out petition papers to run for Southern Berkshire Register of Deeds, a full-time position. The election for the six-year term will be held as part of the statewide elections Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Incumbent register Wanda M. Beckwith, who has been in that office since January 2007, has opted not to run for reelection but her clerk, Michelle Laramee-Jenny, confirmed to The Edge that she, too, is running for the register seat. The state rents space in the Great Barrington Town Hall for the register’s office.

Kathleen McCormick

If Kate McCormick is elected to the post of register of deeds, it is not clear what will become of McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus, the Great Barrington law firm that was founded in 1954 by her father’s great-uncle, former Southern Berkshire District Court Judge George R. McCormick. According to the firm’s website , Kate McCormick is the managing partner  and the firm’s only attorney.

In response to a request for comment, Kate McCormick sent a news release announcing her candidacy. Click here to view it.

Kate McCormick’s announcement to run for office comes weeks after she took the helm at McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus.

The firm’s website states that Edward McCormick, her father and longtime law partner, left the firm in January 2018.

On January 31, on her law firm’s Facebook page, Kate McCormick wrote: “I have had the opportunity to work side by side with my Dad for 14 wonderful years, today is his last day in the office. Everyone at McCormick, Murtagh & Marcus wishes you fun and relaxation in your well-deserved retirement. I look forward to carrying on the family business and to continue to serve the community as you have done proudly for so many years.”

Edward McCormick at a Great Barrington Planning Board meeting in September, 2012, with a proposal to convert the historic Castle Street Fire Station into a culinary center. Photo: David Scribner

On August 31, 2017, however, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO), an independent administrative body that investigates and evaluates complaints against attorneys, had filed formal disciplinary charges against Edward McCormick, serving him with a petition for discipline that alleged multiple counts of professional misconduct as counsel to the Cook family of Great Barrington.

One of the cases mentioned in the board’s judgment involved the estate of David Jack Cook, who died in a Stockbridge car crash in 2004 and was the owner of Cook’s Garage in Housatonic. McCormick had billed in excess of an eye-popping $193,000 over 10 years. The case was heard in probate court in 2015 by Justice Richard A. Simons.

“Attorney McCormick’s failure to move this estate, as well as the Conservatorship Estates, forward to conclusion sooner, resulted in unnecessarily prolonged estate administration expenses and attorneys’ fees,” Simons ruled in an October 2015 decision in Berkshire County Probate Court in Pittsfield.

On Dec. 22, 2017, McCormick submitted an affidavit of resignation to the Bar seeking permission to surrender his license, an option open to attorneys under disciplinary investigation by the Bar.

In January 2018, the BBO voted unanimously to recommend that the state Supreme Judicial Court allow McCormick to surrender his license “as a disciplinary sanction.”

Ed McCormick as Great Barrington Town Moderator during the Annual Town Meeting. Photo: David Scribner

On Feb. 5, Chief Justice Scott L. Kafker of the state Supreme Judicial Court formally accepted McCormick’s license to practice law in Massachusetts as a disciplinary sanction. Click here to read the summary of the disciplinary action.

In his affidavit of resignation, the elder McCormick “acknowledged that the material facts concerning his failure to diligently administer trusts, conflicts of interest, and charging of clearly excessive fees … could be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.”

The judgment from the Board of Overseers stated that “Between 2004 and 2017, in his capacity as trustee of two client trusts and certain other trusts for grandchildren and as counsel, the respondent failed to administer certain trusts diligently, to treat all beneficiaries impartially, and to render timely accounts.

Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, Ed McCormick and Thomas Borshoff in front of the Castle Street Fire Station commemorating the sale of the historic structure to Borshoff in 2014. Photo: David Scribner

“The respondent also failed to act with reasonable diligence in settling an estate and three conservatorships; represented both the buyer and the seller in the sale of real property despite a conflict of interest; and failed to file consents to his continued representation as counsel to an executor in light of the various roles he held, as directed by the Court. The respondent also charged clearly excessive legal fees.”

In a detailed investigation in response to a petition to remove McCormick as trustee, the court found that, in the billings of McCormick’s firm to the Cook estate over that 10-year period, there were “duplicative billing entries and entries for multiple employees performing the same work.”

Representing the Cook estate, the elder McCormick sold the Cook home and an adjacent lot in 2010 but did so representing both the buyer and the seller in the transaction. That raises troubling questions of a conflict of interest that were addressed in the Board of Overseers judgment.

Al Cimini, the Pittsfield attorney who represented the Cooks during the three-day probate trial, said in court that McCormick never established trusts for the children with the proceeds of the sale, as he was directed by the court to do. Nevertheless, McCormick billed the Cook estate more than $20,000 for work in connection with them. Simons later ordered McCormick and his law firm to reimburse the estate $60,910 for what he called “grossly inflated billing,” according to the judge’s decision.

McCormick was further accused of mismanaging the estate in neglecting the Cooks’ vacant North Plain Road home where pipes burst in 2008, causing mold problems that reduced the value of the home by more than $200,000, Simon’s said in his decision.

And even after McCormick’s firm had sold the property, the firm sat on the proceeds for more than two years. McCormick’s firm did so, Simons said, “without any attempt by Atty. McCormick as the Temporary Conservator to access, manage, or use these assets on behalf of the Cook children.”

McCormick later appealed Simon’s decisions and emphasized to the news media that no lawsuit had been filed against him. While not officially a lawsuit, the probate trial is a “judicial proceeding” under state law, and Simons did find wrongdoing on McCormick’s part. McCormick continued to deny the allegations but agreed in March 2016 to step down from his position as trustee for the Cook estate.

Ed McCormick as assistant fire chief leading the parade in 2011 celebrating Great Barrington’s 150th anniversary. Photo: David Scribner

Ed McCormick was admitted to practice in Massachusetts on Nov. 18, 1971. McCormick, 70, has been a fixture in the community during his 46 years of practicing law. He was Great Barrington’s town moderator, and has served the Great Barrington Fire Department for over 50 years, more than 20 of them as deputy chief.

McCormick is also well-known for several other public service and volunteer positions he has held over the years. In 1995, he began a long stint as town moderator, presiding over the annual town meeting each May, until opting not to run for re-election in 2016. He has also served on numerous boards and advisory committees of various nonprofits in Berkshire County.

The elder McCormick has represented numerous clients before municipal boards in South County. He is widely regarded for his political and social connections, if not his legal skills.

In the news release announcing her candidacy, Kate McCormick said she joined McCormick, Murtagh, & Marcus in 2004, and became a partner in 2009 and managing partner in 2017. Her practice focuses on business and corporate law, residential and commercial real estate and estate planning.

She is a graduate of Monument Mountain Regional High School, earned a bachelor of arts from Boston College and a law degree from Suffolk University. She is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar and U.S. Supreme Court Bar.

Asked what, if she is elected, will happen to her law firm, where, according to the firm’s website, she is the sole practicing attorney remaining, the younger McCormick replied, “If elected, I will focus on the position of Register and the Registry of Deeds. Personally, it would be my intent to scale back my practice and for the firm to continue.”

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Reporter Julie Ruth contributed to this story.

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