Friday, May 28, 2010

Thefts From Law Firm Draw Nine-Month Suspension Recommendation

The Illinois Review Board has recommended a nine-month suspension of an attorney admitted in 2000. The attorney had clerked at and practiced with a law firm. When his income declined in 2005, the attorney received fees due the firm and misappropriated the funds for his own use. He stipulated as follows: 

The Administrator charged, and [the attorney] admitted, that on twenty-one (21) separate occasions between January 19, 2006 and January 3, 2007, [he] received fees from clients that should have been turned over to EMC [his firm]. Individual payments ranged from $270 to $7,500. [He] received a total of $30,020.00. Rather than turning the funds over to EMC, [he] took the money, without EMC’s knowledge or consent, and used it for his own purposes. Because of [his] fee agreement with EMC, his conduct resulted in conversion of approximately $15,010 from EMC. Given adjustments, the parties ultimately agreed that the amount [he] owed EMC was $12,345.20.

In an additional incident, a client paid [the attorney] $1,500. This incident, which was not part of the charges, occurred in mid-2006. [He] deposited that money in his own account, rather than giving it to EMC. [He] borrowed money from his brother and repaid EMC shortly after diverting the funds. [He] testified that he thought that, when he repaid that money, he discussed the matter EMC partner and King’s mentor and friend. [He] did not tell [the partner] that there had been other similar incidents.

He stopped his misconduct when his income rose and his financial situation stabilized, but the conduct was discovered after an investigation into thefts committed by his secretary.

The Review Board rejected the Administrator's call for a one-year suspension:

Given all the circumstances of this case and given the precedent discussed above, we conclude that [the attorney] should be suspended for nine (9) months. In our opinion, a suspension of this length strikes a proper balance between the seriousness of [his] misconduct, and the aggravating and mitigating factors present here. The aggravating factors include the intentional and repeated nature of [his] misconduct, the amount taken, and the fact that [he] did not promptly make full disclosure; he really would have had no way of doing so as he did not keep any records of the amount he had converted. In mitigation, [he] did not engage in additional misconduct. No clients were harmed by [his] misconduct. [He] is in the process of making restitution satisfactory to EMC. He has expressed remorse and recognizes the wrongfulness of his conduct.

We also recommend that the suspension continue until [he] completes restitution to EMC and successfully completes the program offered by the Illinois Professional Responsibility Institute. Both conditions are appropriate under the circumstances of this case and [he] does not object to either condition.

It is not at all unusual for misconduct to be brought to light by the attorney's secretary. I recall many such cases from my time with the D.C. Bar. It is, however, unusual for misconduct to be discovered because the secretary also is stealing from the firm. (Mike Frisch)

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Am I the only one that thinks a nine-month suspension is ridiculously lenient? He stole repeatedly simply to maintain his lifestyle and only got caught by happenstance. And what is with the Review Board attempting to excuse his non-disclosure based upon his failure to keep adequate records of his thefts? That’s also ridiculous.

On the other hand, how is a suspended lawyer, accustomed to living a high lifestyle, supposed to repay the money he stole if he must remain suspended until the debt is paid? Rob banks, maybe?


Posted by: FixedWing | May 28, 2010 11:48:06 AM

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