August 13, 2008
The web page of the Ohio Supreme Court has a summary of a decision issued today:
The law license of Lancaster attorney Lawrence M. Maley has been suspended for 18 months, with the final six months stayed on conditions, for failing to properly supervise the activities of his secretary, who without his knowledge accepted retainer fees from clients and independently prepared and/or filed legal documents in at least 39 bankruptcy cases over a period of more than a year. The suspension was also based on Maley’s failure to maintain a dedicated client trust account, resulting in the improper commingling of fee advances and other moneys he held in trust for his clients with his own personal and business funds.
The Supreme Court adopted findings by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Maley’s lax oversight of his employee and failure to maintain proper client accounts enabled the secretary to use his credit card and the court’s online filing software to independently prepare and file bankruptcy petitions bearing Maley’s electronic signature, and to perform other unlicensed legal work for dozens of clients who thought they were obtaining Maley’s professional services. Maley subsequently notified police that the secretary had pocketed client fees totaling more than $25,000 and had used his credit card to make an additional $8,300 in unauthorized purchases or payment for her own benefit.
The Court found that Maley’s acts and omissions violated multiple state attorney discipline rules including those that prohibit conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, conduct adversely reflecting on an attorney’s fitness to practice, aiding a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law, neglect of entrusted client legal matters and prejudicing or damaging a client in the course of a professional relationship.
The lawyer had given the secretary broad authority to run his practice with little, if any, supervision. After he discovered that she was untrustworthy, he terminated her. She continued to undertake bankruptcy matters by gaining entry into his office after business hours. The lawyer had not changed the locks, did not get the secretary's keys back and had not canceled his credit cards, which facilitated additional misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
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