September 3, 2008
Conversion Charge Sustained
The Illinois Review Board overturned a hearing panel's recommendation to dismiss all charges against a former Jenner & Block lawyer who later left active law practice to become an agent for athletes, writers and directors. The board concluded that the accused attorney had converted $15,000 held in trust, rejecting claims that he had was improperly found to have defaulted on the charge and that the conduct could not be deemed to involve conversion because a court had found that the escrowed funds belonged to the client's ex-husband and his attorney rather than the client herself:
It is not at all clear that the circuit court finding in the citation case would have a res judicata effect in a disciplinary case. However, even if it did, Odom’s argument misses the point. There is no indication that the money at issue belonged to Odom or that any court determined that it did. The circuit court order on which Odom relies demonstrates that the money did not belong to him. The court found that the money belonged to persons other than Odom. Odom was supposed to be holding the money for the benefit of Rodriguez or her creditors.
Despite its separate common law meaning, see In re Thebus, 108 Ill. 2d 255, 483 N.E.2d 1258, 91 Ill. Dec. 623 (1985), for purposes of disciplinary cases, conversion occurs whenever an attorney is supposed to be holding money on behalf of another and the balance of the account into which the lawyer has deposited the funds falls below the amount entrusted to the lawyer.
The board proposes that the lawyer be suspended for nine months. (Mike Frisch)
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