Thursday, April 4, 2013
An attorney who converted the inheritance of an incarcerated client was suspended for two years by the Oklahoma Supreme Court:
When released from prison in March 2011, the client requested all of his remaining funds to be delivered to him in lump sum. Respondent initially told the client that the funds were "unavailable," but eventually revealed that she had spent the funds. She promised she would "recoup it as quickly as possible." At this time, Respondent gave client $1,000 and told him that she was going to get a loan to repay the entire amount. From March to June 2011, Respondent had several conversations with client and made two more payments of $1,000. In each conversation with client, Respondent told client he had the right to file a complaint with the bar association or report this matter to the district attorney. Respondent's initial application for a loan was denied.
In June, 2011, Respondent made a second application for a loan. This loan took almost three months to complete, but when approved, its proceeds were used to repay client. During the time the loan was being processed, Respondent went to Mississippi, was hospitalized, and did not return to Oklahoma until September 27, 2011. Upon her return to Oklahoma, she told client that she would repay him from the loan that was due to close on September 30, 2011.
When client did not hear from Respondent at the beginning of September, the client hired a new attorney to help him recoup the funds. On September 19, 2011, the new attorney wrote a letter to the General Counsel of the Bar Association stating that he had been in contact with Respondent and that while she had promised payment, it had not been forthcoming to date. Less than three weeks later, the new attorney sent the General Counsel a letter on October 7, 2011, reporting that Respondent came to his office and paid the client in full plus interest. The letter further stated: "[Respondent] had worked very hard to obtain these funds and was very concerned about making [the client ] whole in this transaction. Health problems simply prevented her from handling it in a timely manner." The new lawyer did not charge client for the assistance he provided in facilitating the repayment to client.
The repayment, full cooperation and other factors led to a sanction less than disbarment:
...due regard need also be given to the fact that Respondent has had no other grievances or ethical violations in eight years of practice prior to this incident. Due regard need also be given to as her past pro bono work in the Lawyers for Hero's project and her representation of clients who could not fully pay her for the work she performed.
While these circumstances do not excuse the misconduct that occurred, nor lessen the seriousness of that misconduct, they do deserve to be weighed in determining the appropriate discipline we impose to protect the public, the legal profession and administration of justice.