October 9, 2012
The Utmost Importance
From the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio today suspended the law license of Cleveland Heights attorney James Alexander Jr. for one year, with the final six months of that term stayed, for violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
In a 7-0 per curiam opinion, the court adopted findings by its Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline that Alexander improperly commingled his own funds with funds held for clients in his law office trust account, used his trust account to pay personal and business expenses, and allowed his wife to write checks against his trust account.
The board also found that Alexander improperly divided a client’s fee with another attorney without the client’s written consent, violated the disciplinary rules that require an attorney to keep accurate records of client funds in his possession and reconcile his client trust account on a monthly basis, and engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.
In setting the sanction for this misconduct, the court noted that maintaining a strict separation between an attorney’s own funds and funds he holds in trust for clients is a matter “of the utmost importance,” and wrote: “When we consider Alexander’s prolonged misuse of his (trust account), his failure to keep adequate records of client funds in his possession, and his improper fee splitting, we believe that respondent has displayed a general disregard of the rules of professional conduct, which warrants an actual suspension.”
As conditions for staying the final six months of Alexander’s suspension, the court ordered that he must commit no further misconduct, complete an extra six hours of continuing legal education coursework in law office management and trust fund maintenance, complete one year of probation that includes monitoring of his trust account by an attorney appointed by disciplinary counsel, and pay restitution of $175 to PNC Bank.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
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I think I have consistently seen higher punishment than that for such trust fund violations. The stern language here does not seem to fit a suspension that ends pretty soon by comparison to others. Am I missing something here or are we getting more forgiving of financial commingling?
Posted by: Alan Childress | Oct 11, 2012 6:00:31 AM