Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Marital And Disciplinary Troubles Lead To Censure

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has imposed a public censure of an attorney:

 Respondent graduated from the Oklahoma City University, School of Law in 2002.
He was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar Association and his name was entered on the
Roll of Attorneys in 2004, upon his successful completion of the Oklahoma Bar
Examination. At all times relevant to this complaint, Respondent has been duly
licensed to practice law in this State, and has never been disciplined by this
Court.

Upon admission to the OBA, Respondent worked for a medical malpractice
defense firm for two years. In 2006, Respondent and his family moved to Hugo,
Oklahoma, his hometown, and established a solo practice. While there, Respondent
established the firms's operating and IOLTA Trust Accounts at First United Bank.
Respondent's wife...had signatory authority on the business'
operating account.

Respondent employed Wife, as the office manager. Wife assisted with
client intake and managed all of the firm's banking matters-including,
reconciling Respondent's operating and trust accounts. Respondent also employed
a number of secretarial staff at different times.

In 2007, Respondent and his wife began experiencing marital problems. In
addition, the couple struggled with the recent loss of a child. In December
2007, Respondent filed for divorce and removed Wife's name from the business'
operating account. Wife and the parties' children moved out of the marital home.
The Hills' later reconciled and dismissed the divorce action in January, 2008.
Shortly thereafter, Wife instituted a subsequent divorce proceeding and left
with the couple's children.

During this turbulent time in the couple's marriage, Respondent began
suffering from depression. In August 2008, Respondent checked himself into
Valley Hope, an inpatient treatment center in Cushing, Oklahoma. However, he was
subsequently released because the inpatient program was restricted to treating
individuals with substance abuse problems. So, in September 2008, Respondent
relocated to Oklahoma City and entered the Lawyers Helping Lawyers program. Yet,
Respondent's practice remained open. All the while, Wife continued to manage
Respondent's practice and oversee the firm's operating and trust accounts. In so
doing, Wife, along with various secretarial staff, began writing checks on the
firm's operating and trust accounts without Respondent's knowledge or consent.
It is against this canvas of unfortunate events that the...grievances
were lodged.

The court agreed with the Professional Responsibility Tribunal that the attorney had not misappropriated client funds:

The PRT determined and we agree, that the OBA has failed to establish, by clear
and convincing evidence, that Respondent intended to either convert or
misappropriate client funds. Rather, the record demonstrates Respondent gave
control of his client trust account to his office manager, and then failed to
supervise the office manager, examine the records or bank statements. As
previously stated, Respondent's failure to supervise the management of the
account, or to check the records, permitted a substantial client's check to be
endorsed by his staff and then mis-deposited and commingled with his personal
funds. In addition, the record reveals that despite Respondent's repeated
demands on the bank to deny Wife access to the business's accounts, the bank
nonetheless continued to cash checks signed by Wife. Although Respondent, on
occasion, was not the actor, the acts of his staff, nonetheless, are imputed to
his own doing. It is as if Respondent committed the act himself. Respondent's
failure, however, may be traced back to his debilitating medical condition. Of
equal importance is the fact that upon discovering Wife's mismanagement of the
office finances, Respondent employed a CPA to review the firm's records, changed
the firm's bank account numbers, and changed the locks to his office on several
occasions. This Court is satisfied with the PRT's finding that Respondent merely
commingled client funds.

(Mike Frisch)

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