Sunday, May 2, 2010

Second Chance Given, Attorney Reprimanded

A Virginia attorney was reprimanded for failure to supervise a legal secretary who embezzled from his law firm. The employee was on probation for theft when the attorney hired her at the suggestion of his father, who had founded the law firm and transferred responsibility to the son.

A report from the Bristol Herald Courier provides some details:

In June 2007, an Abingdon law firm hired a longtime legal secretary who had just pleaded guilty to embezzlement to be its bookkeeper.

Charles Jessee Sr., the firm’s founding partner and sole shareholder, hired Anna Howell to give her a “new start,” according to a Virginia State Bar report released Thursday. Jessee Sr. had recently transferred his shares and managerial responsibilities to his son, John Jessee Jr. The father told his son that Howell “would be an extremely loyal and devoted employee.”

But she wasn’t.

On Thursday, the Virginia State Bar reprimanded Jessee Jr. for neglecting to adequately supervise Howell and exercise his managerial duties as the firm’s sole shareholder.

Jessee Sr. transferred his ownership interest in the law firm to his son in March 2007. But Jessee Jr. did not realize that he simultaneously inherited managerial responsibility for “what always had been, and in his eyes, what still was, his father’s firm,” according to a State Bar disciplinary report.

Before becoming the firm’s sole shareholder, Jessee Jr. had not had any managerial authority in the firm, the State Bar report notes.

Howell, while employed by the firm, hijacked outstanding checks from a real estate escrow account by having the bank issue stop-payment orders and reissue the checks as money orders. Howell then used the money orders to pay her own debts, according to the State Bar and federal court documents.

Howell is serving a three-year federal sentence, and faces an additional 2½ years in state prison upon her release.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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