Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trust Funds Used To Purchase Drugs

A lawyer who wrote escrow account checks to himself as well as to grocery stores and other businesses was suspended for six months by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. His parner discovered the problem, replaced the funds and dissolved the parnership. The attorney had used the money to buy drugs and has completed drug rehabilitation. He also had served as a federal bankruptcy trustee and did not misuse entrusted funds in that capacity. The court noted that the misconduct was "not accidental" and that the attorney was able to function at the time of the misconduct. The court concludes:

The only evidence offered by the Bar is the testimony of the Respondent. His former law partner was not called as witness nor was anyone else called to show they were injured by the acts of the Respondent. The evidence presented at best shows Hammond guilty of commingling of trust account funds. The evidence also shows that no clients were injured by the actions of Hammond. When the money was discovered missing, Hammond's law partner made sure the money was replaced. Also, mitigating in this matter is Hammond's sobriety. Based on the facts before this Court, we find a six-month suspension to be the appropriate discipline in light of Hammond's errors.

One dissent favored a year and a day suspension; another would impose disbarment. I would tend to favor harsher discipline as it seems from the description of the misconduct to involve more than commingling. (Mike Frisch)

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