April 24, 2008
Misappropriation As Therapy
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a five-year suspension in a case where the attorney had "mishandled an estate, converted funds owed to a beneficiary, and made misrepresentations to conceal the conversion." The attorney had previously been informally admonished for failure to file an appeal in a disability benefits matter. The estate funds at issue were a portion of a wrongful death settlement owed to an incarcerated person. The attorney had intentionally misappropriated the proceeds to pay for "office supplies, food, gasoline, wine, tickets for movies and sporting events, hotel rooms, and formal wear." When the beneficiary complained, the lawyer made a series of deposits into his prison account. The beneficiary then sought written proof relating to the deposits but was told that the lawyer had "fallen in love" causing a delay in providing such documentation. The lawyer made a false statement concerning the total amount of the deposits.
An expert testified on behalf of the lawyer at the disciplinary hearing that "depression was a significant contributor to the misconduct, as [the lawyer] was trying to self-treat himself by misappropriating money to make himself feel better." Former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode was a character witness for the lawyer. The lawyer did not help his cause by suggested that delay in paying a person in jail was no big deal.
The Disciplinary Board concluded that the lawyer had not established mitigation based on his depression. The board did not propose disbarment in light of the other character evidence. (Mike Frisch)
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