Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Judge Disbarred For Misappropriation While In Practice

A attorney who had practiced law for over 30 years prior to his election as a district court judge in 2004 was disbarred by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In 2001, he was retained by a 69 year-old client who suffered from dementia. She wished to safeguard property that she owned and he deposited her funds "in a new personal account in his sole name" and had her deed over real property to himself. Shortly thereater, the client was adjudicated as incompetent and her nephew was appointed as her guardian. He delayed in the transfer of funds to the guardian and falsely claimed to have paid $48,000 for the real property.

The Court held:

"by depositing the entrusted funds of Ms. Sweet into his own personal checking account, by writing checks from this account to himself and others, by taking cash from this account, and by failing to return portions of Ms. Sweet's funds to the rightful owner, Defendant misappropriated Ms. Sweet's funds that had been entrusted to him in a fiduciary capacity to his own use, and thus engaged in criminal acts reflecting on his honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in violation of Rule 8.4(b), engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(c) and prejudiced or damaged his client during the course of the professional relationship in violation of Rule 8.4(g)."

As to sanction, the court rejected the suggestion that the client had been fully repaid and concluded that the Disciplinary Hearing Commission "properly weighed the mitigating and aggravating factors before imposing discipline." Disbarment was the appropriate sanction. (Mike Frisch)


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