March 13, 2008
The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility recently recommended disbarment of an attorney admitted in 2002 who used his law license for little purpose other than to steal "fees" from his numerous clients. The facts are detailed in a hearing committee report of over 100 pages that is appended to the board's decision. The lawyer advertised his legal services to successful bidders in real property tax foreclosure sales. According to the Board, "[h]is willingness to hold himself out to an unsuspecting public as an attorney experienced in tax lien lawsuits, who had 'helped more than one hundred clients successfully navigate the legal process' was fanciful. Nearly all of [the] clients' cases were dismissed due to [his] failures. The damage he caused to the clients was far-reaching, including not only the purchase price each of them lost when the property was redeemed and no action filed to protect them, but also fees paid to Respondent." The board recommends disbarment and restitution.
But wait. What about those fees that the attorney collected, placed in escrow and thereafter had taken for his own use? Although unnecessary to its decision, the board "believes it should state its position for the Court" that, because the lawyer called the payments "flat fees," such payments were the lawyers property on receipt and exempt from a charge of misappropriation. In other words, the lawyer "earns" the flat fee on receipt even if the lawyer performs no service of value or, as here, inflicts great harm through the "representation." Only lawyers could come up with reasoning like that. (Mike Frisch)
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