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Judicial branch suspends law license of N.H. attorney prominent in anti-mask cases for mishandling client funds

N.H. Supreme Court building outside
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
N.H. Supreme Court

Robert Fojo, a Bedford-based attorney who has been involved in multiple failed legal efforts to thwart mask mandates in school districts across New Hampshire and Massachusetts, has been temporarily suspended from practicing law for allegedly mishandling client money in unrelated cases.

According to recently filed court paperwork, Fojo is alleged to have mishandled nearly $100,000 in client funds, including payments for personal injury claims and a contract dispute. On December 21, the New Hampshire Supreme Court temporarily suspended Fojo’s license to practice law in the state, writing that the move was “necessary to protect the public and to preserve the integrity of the legal profession.”

Fojo didn’t respond to requests for comment, but in a legal filing, admitted to “certain errors in his bookkeeping.” Through his attorney, Fojo is challenging his temporary suspension.

“There is no emergency, no immediate harm to the public, and no justification for an immediate suspension,” attorney William Saturley, who is representing Fojo, wrote in court paperwork. Fojo will appear before a specially appointed judge on January 4 for a hearing on his temporary suspension.

Fojo has been practicing law in New Hampshire since 2010, and is licensed to practice in Massachusetts. His law license in Florida has been suspended for failing to pay dues.

Along with his personal injury work, Fojo has been the state’s most pugnacious lawyer on issues related to mask mandates in schools, remote schooling, and the governor’s emergency orders during the pandemic.

He has filed lawsuits on behalf of dozens if not hundreds of parents challenging mask mandates at schools including in Hollis/Brookline, Bedford, Londonderry, Timberlane, Epping, Derry, Dover, Somersworth, Rochester, Durham and Exeter, along with at least 18 school districts and the state department of education in Massachusetts. In September, he filed a suit against the Catholic Diocese in Florida over the use of masks in its private schools.

In New Hampshire courts, Fojo has repeatedly argued that school districts lacked authority to issue mask mandates, and that face masks violated a law prohibiting physical restraint that obstructs a child’s breathing.

“Masks for children do more harm to their development than provide effective safeguards against spreading COVID-19,” Fojo alleged in an October lawsuit involving eight New Hampshire schools.

Some of Fojo’s lawsuits have been forcefully rejected by New Hampshire judges, including his case against the mask mandate in Hollis/Brookline schools. In dismissing the suit, Judge Charles Temple called Fojo’s argument a “twisted and tortured” reading of state law regarding the use of restraints.

“Attorneys have a professional obligation to present accurate information to the courts in which they appear, or at the very least, to not present information they know is misleading,” Judge Temple wrote in an order.

While Fojo has yet to prevail in any of the anti-mask lawsuits filed in New Hampshire, the suits have led to large legal bills for public schools, including $7,466 spent by SAU16 in Exeter, which ultimately won.

Fojo has also filed lawsuits against the cities of Nashua and Keene over their respective mask ordinances, and against Gov. Chris Sununu over extending a state of emergency declaration related to the pandemic, all of which failed.

Now, his handling of client money in unrelated matters may affect his ability to continue litigating pandemic-related suits.

On December 17, the Attorney Discipline Office filed a 33-page complaint outlining Fojo’s alleged mismanagement of funds on behalf of three clients. In one instance, Fojo failed to properly hold a $40,000 settlement check in a slip and fall case in what’s known as an IOLTA account. In another claim, he’s alleged to have used funds allocated for one client to pay taxes following a settlement payment for a different client.

“There is a danger that Mr. Fojo will continue this course of conduct if he is not suspended from the practice of law,” lawyers for the Attorney Discipline Office wrote.

In his rebuttal, filed less than a week later, Fojo admitted to failing to properly handle client money and said he was willing to “accept some form of discipline,” but argued a suspension wasn’t necessary, in part, because he had cooperated throughout the investigation.

“There is no public emergency here. While unfortunate, errors in IOLTA accounts are not
as rare as comets,” Fojo’s lawyers wrote.

The temporary suspension will complicate Fojo’s ongoing anti-mask lawsuits. An attorney from the state’s Attorney Discipline Office has been assigned to take possession of Fojo’s files and notify his clients and any financial institutions of his law suspension, but will not take over his legal cases.

“Finding other counsel to handle his clients’ ongoing matters, particularly during Christmas week, is an insurmountable task,” his attorney wrote.