February 26, 2008
Facilitating Cheating On Escheated Funds Leads To Suspension
The Wisconsin Supreme Court imposed a suspension of four months in a case where the accused attorney had defaulted on charges of misconduct. The violations arose out of the attorney's "solicitations and representations of individuals that might have claims to funds that had escheated to the state and were being held by the Wisconsin State Treasurer." The attorney gave permission to a lawyer not admitted in Wisconsin to file pleadings under her name. That person then misappropriated portions of the funds that had been recovered in several matters. Disciplinary counsel had stated that the default process may have "kept some mitigating factors from being fully disclosed."
The court concluded:
"While we acknowledge Attorney Knight's inexperience, her expression of remorse, her attempts to rectify some of the harm to clients, and the lack of evidence that she explicitly knew of Eleby's conversion of funds, we cannot agree with a characterization of Attorney Knight as a 'victim.' She knowingly allowed an individual who was not licensed in Wisconsin to use her name and attorney number to represent clients in the courts of this state. Moreover, she allowed Eleby to cash and disburse checks that were made out to her and to her trust account apparently without any effort to ensure that the clients received the funds to which they were entitled. These actions ultimately led to the theft of funds that belonged to clients for whom Attorney Knight was responsible. Further, Attorney Knight's failure to maintain and utilize an appropriate client trust account demonstrates an alarming lack of understanding or a disregard of one of a lawyer's core duties——protecting the interests of clients and their property."
Reinstatement is conditioned on restitution to two of the harmed clients. (Mike Frisch)
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