Monday, July 21, 2014
The Illinois Administrator has filed a two-count complaint alleging misconduct by an attorney.
The first count charges him with leaving an accident scene. He allegedly drove seven miles to his home after the collision and parked his damaged vehicle in his garage.
He had, however, left some incriminating evidence at the scene - his bumper with the license plate still affixed.
After arriving at the accident scene, Lee County Sheriff’s Officers located Respondent’s address from the license plate and bumper left behind at the scene. After finishing their reports at the scene, the officers proceeded to Respondent’s home. Upon their arrival at Respondent’s home, the officers were able to see Respondent’s vehicle parked in the garage by looking through a window in the garage. The officers witnessed the damage to the front end of Respondent’s vehicle that was consistent with the information they witnessed at the accident scene.
Shortly after arriving at Respondent’s home, the Lee County Sheriff’s Officers rang Respondent’s door bell and knocked on the door. Respondent did not answer the door. The officers then looked into Respondent’s window and saw Respondent slumped in a chair in the kitchen with numerous beer cans around him. The officers knocked on the window and shined a flashlight at Respondent but Respondent did not awaken.
The attorney pleaded guilty to misdemeanor leaving the scene.
Count two charges, in essence, lawyering while intoxicated:
Between May 2010 and October 2011, the Administrator of the ARDC received correspondence from various judges presiding in the 15th Circuit, Lee County, Illinois, with concerns that Respondent was impaired and smelled like alcohol during various court appearances he made on behalf of clients in the Circuit Court of Lee County.
On October 26, 2011, Respondent appeared on behalf of Peggy Goldie for a prove-up in a dissolution of marriage matter entitled, In re the Marriage of Peggy Goldie v. Charles Goldie, 11 D 50 (Lee County Circuit Court). During the court appearance on October 26, 2011, the Honorable Jacquelyn D. Ackert, and other courtroom personnel, smelled alcohol on Respondent. Judge Ackert and the courtroom personnel also observed that Respondent was unsteady and had difficulty formulating appropriate questions for the court proceeding. Judge Ackert determined that Respondent was impaired and unable to properly proceed on the prove-up and continued the case to November 1, 2011.
After the court appearance, described in paragraph 10 above, the Honorable Ronald M. Jacobson and Judge Ackert, met with Respondent in Judge Ackert’s chambers. The Judges asked Respondent to submit to a breathalyzer test, but Respondent refused.
The complaint contends that the above course of conduct prejudiced the administration of justice. (Mike Frisch)
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a call for license revocation from the Office of Lawyer Regulation and imposed a suspension of 18 months for an attorney's misconduct as a guardian.
The recreation of Attorney Voss's trust account showed that, during the period of time he served as J.K.'s guardian, Attorney Voss converted at least $48,791.73 of J.K.'s funds either for his own use or to cover expenditures for other client matters. Since Attorney Voss repaid $46,103.88 to J.K.'s estate, the OLR's audit revealed that Attorney Voss still owes $2,077.18 in restitution to J.K.'s estate.
But revocation is too severe, according to the court
Revocation of an attorney's license to practice law is the most severe sanction this court can impose, and is reserved for the most egregious cases. While Attorney Voss's misconduct is serious, we do not agree that it rises to the level of warranting revocation. The cases cited by the OLR in support of its argument that revocation is an appropriate sanction are distinguishable...The conduct here simply does not rise to that level...
Wisconsin does adhere to a system of progressive discipline. Attorney Voss has been licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for nearly four decades. His disciplinary history consists of one private reprimand and one public reprimand. After careful consideration, we conclude that an eighteen-month suspension of his license to practice law is an appropriate sanction. We agree with the referee that Attorney Voss should be required to pay additional restitution in the amount of $2,077.18 to J.K.'s estate and that he be assessed the full costs of this proceeding. We further agree with the referee that, as a condition of the reinstatement of his license, Attorney Voss be required to demonstrate that he has in place a proper trust account consistent with supreme court rules.
The referee had proposed a one-year suspension. (Mike Frisch)
The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred a solo practicioner who practiced immigration and corporate law
This attorney discipline proceeding concerns a Maryland lawyer who, among other things: (1) represented her niece in an annulment/divorce matter in Virginia even though she was not licensed to practice law in Virginia and even though a conflict of interest existed due to the lawyer’s representation of her niece’s husband in an immigration matter; (2) provided incompetent representation and advanced a ground for annulment without conducting adequate research or speaking to her niece; (3) authorized co-counsel to sign settlement agreements on behalf of her niece despite failing to advise her niece of the agreements and to obtain her consent; (4) misrepresented her niece’s ability to communicate in English and her consent to the terms of the settlement agreements; (5) held herself out as specializing in immigration and corporate law; and (6) concealed her role in her niece’s representation from the trial court.
A concurring/dissenting opinion noted the absence of a selfish motive and would impose an indefinite suspension. (Mike Frisch)
The New Jersey Supreme Court has admonished an attorney who had failed to communicate to a client that her medical malpractice case had been dismissed.
The attorney gave as the reason
Respondent also testified about [client] Reilly’s psychiatrist, Maryn F. Beirne, M.D., who began treating Reilly for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), after Reilly’s State Police service, but before the accident, beginning in 2002. After a conversation with Beirne, respondent came away believing that she should not relay to Reilly any bad news about the case, should it occur. Thus, respondent claimed, she purposefully kept from Reilly the dismissal of the complaint. Respondent denied that she had failed to communicate with Reilly.
The Disciplinary Review Board's analysis
Respondent admitted that she did not advise her client, Reilly, about virtually every important event in the malpractice case, starting roughly in June 2006, when motions to dismiss began to surface. In August 2010, Reilly learned, on her own, that in 2008 her case had been dismissed, with prejudice. Respondent’s defense was that Drs. White and Beirne had cautioned her not to give Reilly bad news about the case, because Reilly could not handle such news. Both doctors, however, flatly rejected respondent’s version of the events, each stating that they had merely expressed their desire that respondent keep them informed about the case, especially about bad news, so that they could prepare Reilly for it and treat her accordingly.
If respondent truly felt that she could not advise her client about the actual events that transpired in the case, either out of a fear for Reilly’s own safety or for the safety of others, her recourse was to withdraw from the case. Instead, she allowed the matter to take its course, remained silent about setbacks, and never dealt with the consequences of her silence. That Reilly might become upset on hearing unfavorable developments in the case did not relieve respondent of her responsibility to keep her client adequately informed about its posture.
The DRB found a number of mitigating factors, including that the client suffered no financial harm. (Mike Frisch)
Kentucky.com has this story
Wayne County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Leveridge started a two-month sexual relationship with and impregnated a Wayne County woman whom he prosecuted for felony drug trafficking and who remains on probation through 2016, according to allegations raised in two court cases. According to the allegations, the affair began in January.
Leveridge filed a motion June 12 to revoke the probation of Latisha Lashley Sartain and send her to prison after she ended their affair and revealed her pregnancy to Leveridge's wife, according to court records. Leveridge's wife is suing him for divorce and sole custody of their child, alleging the affair with Sartain and other women, mental and physical abuse, and a history of bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse by her husband.
The allegations against Leveridge are contained in records in two court proceedings — the divorce case and motions filed by Sartain's attorney in her criminal case.
Leveridge cited a pending misdemeanor shoplifting charge as his reason for revoking Sartain's probation. After filing the revocation motion, Leveridge disqualified himself and handed the case to Wayne County Attorney Thomas Simmons, who withdrew the motion this week.
"I'm not gonna comment," Simmons said Thursday. "That's those people's personal lives, and I'm not going to get into it."
Sartain's attorney, Larry Rogers, said Leveridge was wrong to start an affair with a criminal defendant. Given Leveridge's friendships in the local justice system, Sartain — whose baby is due around late October — doubts she can expect fair treatment "with a five-year prison sentence still hanging over her head" until February 2016, Rogers said.
"If you're a prosecutor, you're not even supposed to talk to a defendant without her attorney being present, much less — well, this," Rogers said. "Universally, I think everyone would agree this is a big, big, big no-no."
Leveridge declined to discuss the allegations Thursday.
"I'm not gonna have any comment on anything," he said. "I'll have things to say in the appropriate forums before the appropriate people."
Leveridge, 41, has prosecuted felonies in Wayne and Russell counties since 2007, including an unsuccessful manslaughter case against the father of a 20-month-old boy who drank drain cleaner allegedly used to make methamphetamine.
Leveridge pleaded guilty in 2009 to drunken driving in Somerset and paid a $200 fine. Three years later, Attorney General Jack Conway presented him with an award as 2012's outstanding commonwealth's attorney.
"Matthew never turns down a special prosecution and is a tremendous asset to the prosecutorial system and to the residents of Russell and Wayne counties," Conway said at the time.
His office would not comment Thursday on the current allegations against Leveridge.
"If there are ethical violations, those would fall under the Kentucky Bar Association," said Conway spokesman Daniel Kemp.
"The Prosecutors Advisory Council and the Office of the Attorney General may take action to begin the removal from office of a prosecutor if he or she is indicted on felony charges," Kemp said. "If criminal misconduct is alleged, those charges could be investigated by Kentucky State Police, the Office of the Attorney General or the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Our office neither confirms or denies the existence of an investigation or lack thereof."
The state's professional conduct rules prohibit lawyers from "commit(ing) a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects" or "engag(ing) in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
Leveridge's wife, Bernadette, has filed for divorce and sole custody of their child in Russell Family Court. In her court filings, she alleges that in addition to "numerous" extramarital affairs, Matthew Leveridge suffers from "a serious history of mental illness" and has threatened repeatedly to kill himself or hurt others.
"Matthew has repeatedly engaged in seriously inappropriate conduct for which he could be disbarred," Bernadette Leveridge, also a lawyer, wrote in an affidavit Monday.
"I am concerned for my safety and that of our child," she said in her affidavit. "He has his guns, is continuing to drink alcohol, often uses abusive language during telephone and in-person conversations, and has stated that he discontinued treatment for psychological problems after I filed for separation."
Bernadette Leveridge also included a purported transcript of a telephone conversation she had this year with Sartain about the woman's affair with her husband. During the call, Sartain said she broke the news about her pregnancy to Matthew Leveridge by text message.
"He goes, 'I'm gonna get sick,'" Sartain told Bernadette Leveridge, according to the transcript in the divorce file. "I told him I was so sorry, and he says, 'It's not your fault, I guess I should've kept it in my pants.'"
Rogers, Sartain's attorney, said he had copies of extensive text message exchanges between his client and Matthew Leveridge.
Hat tip to Richard Underwood for sending this to us. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, July 19, 2014
The Maryland Court of Appeals has imposed an indefinite suspension with the right to reapply in six months in a case involving misappropriation of entrusted funds.
As is often the case, the fighting issue before the court was the level of the attorney's intent. The court affirmed the hearing judge's conclusion that the attorney was negligent.
The court also affirmed the finding that the attorney's conduct did not violate Rule 8.4(c)(conduct involving dishonesty).
A concurring opinion by Judge Harrell, joined by Judge Battaglia, expressed concern about the state of the record on the dishonesty issue
I join reluctantly the Court’s opinion. Although I can find no fault with the opinion, I write separately to note that, on this record, although no MLRPC 8.4(c) violations were proved, I am left to wonder whether such a violation occurred. Under the circumstances, to doubt is to affirm the hearing judge. Nonetheless, I wish to highlight the basis of my mixed emotions for consideration in the prosecution of future cases.
Judge Harrell noted the dearth of evidence presented by the parties concerning the circumstances of three cash withdrawals from escrow, which he concludes were "highly suggestive" of intentional misappropriation.
...we are left to swallow the hearing judge’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law that inferentially the cash withdrawals were just another result of the pervasive negligent conduct of Mungin in this case. Thus , I am constrained to concur in the Court’s opinion that Bar Counsel failed to prove the alleged MLRPC 8.4(c) violations, as the hearing judge concluded.
Friday, July 18, 2014
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has suspended a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney in the wake of her guilty plea to a misdemeanor offense.
Philly.com had the story
For 22 years, Lynn Nichols prosecuted offenders as a Philadelphia assistant district attorney.
On Friday, she left the Criminal Justice Center on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge arising from a bad breakup.
Nichols, 47, declined to comment after her guilty plea before Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon. DeLeon sentenced her to one year of nonreporting probation and restitution of $884 in towing fees to her ex-boyfriend.
"Lynn Nichols is an outstanding person who spent 20 years of her life fighting for the victims of crime," said her attorney, Brian J. McMonagle.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo declined to comment on the negotiated plea agreement, in which the state prosecutor dismissed more serious charges of obstruction of justice and false reports. The state prosecutor handled the case because District Attorney Seth Williams recused his office from the conflict of prosecuting one of its own.
Nichols, assistant chief of the Homicide Unit when she was fired in October, was accused of using her influence as a prosecutor to have a stolen vehicle report removed from a police database in October 2012 to help her then-boyfriend. The 2005 Ford F-150 had been reported stolen by the boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.
When Nichols and her boyfriend split up a year later, authorities said, Nichols sought revenge by having the pickup again reported stolen.
The attorney had resigned from the DA's officeafter charges were filed. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 17, 2014
An attorney facing charges that he diverted fees due to his firm has been suspended on an interim basis by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.
The suspension was based on his admissions in the bar proceedings
At his September 25, 2013 deposition before the Committee, respondent, who was represented by counsel, admitted that between 2010 and 2011 he diverted approximately 10 payments (via checks) totaling approximately $83,000 made by a client, which were intended as payments of legal fees to his law firm in connection with a zoning matter respondent had been handling for the client. Rather than remit the funds to his firm, respondent used the funds for his own personal purposes, mostly for expenses related to his Parkinson's disease. Respondent also admitted that he failed to declare the $83,000 as taxable income because he considered it to be more in the "nature of a loan" which he intended to pay back.
Respondent's firm was unaware that the client had paid respondent directly, and in May 2012 the firm filed a motion asking to withdraw as attorney of record in another matter it was handling for the client in light of his total unpaid balance for legal fees and disbursements. The firm only learned of the client's payments to respondent in July 2012 after the client had commenced an action against respondent and the firm for, inter alia, legal malpractice, at which time the firm confronted respondent. Shortly thereafter, respondent left the firm and self-reported his diversion of legal fees to the Committee. In December 2012, respondent reimbursed the firm in full.
The attorney contended that interim suspension should not be imposed
Respondent acknowledges the seriousness of his conduct, but urges this Court not to impose an interim suspension because he contends that he does not pose an immediate threat to the public interest. In support of this argument, he recounts that: (1) he made full repayment to his law firm; (2) he self-reported his conduct to the Committee; (3) he is 76 years old, suffers from Parkinson's disease, and has a limited practice with only two active clients; (4) he does not intend to take on new clients; and (5) he will continue to cooperate with the Committee and will appear for a hearing once formal charges are filed. In addition, respondent argues that this Court has declined to impose interim suspensions in similar, and even more serious, matters. Respondent further contends that the majority of interim suspensions imposed by this Court have been in instances in which attorneys failed to cooperate with Committee investigations, which is not the case here, or where the conduct was flagrant and ongoing. Respondent has also submitted two character references and a letter from his psychotherapist who opines that she believes "the circumstances that took place ([respondent's] Parkinson's combined with the economic stress) sorely affected [his] judgment", respondent is not "a threat to society", nor "would [he] do anything to harm the public or a client."
The court rejected these contentions. (Mike Frisch)
This is the time of year when the small universe of people who follow District of Columbia bar discipline matters hold our breath to see if some of the not-so-golden oldies actually get decided and move forward.
The Board on Professional Responsibility likes to push out as many decisions as possible before resuming its work in September with newly-appointed members. This should be particulary true this summer because the term of the present board chair will come to an end.
The very worst offender in the overdue hearing committee reports is In re Rohde, a case in that involves a felony hit and run conviction.
On March 16, 2006 (more than eight years ago), the Court of Appeals referred the conviction to the board for a moral turpitude determination.
The board in turn sent the matter to a hearing committee for a recommendation. The committee held hearings in late December 2007 and early January 2008, more than six years ago.
And then... silence.
Notably, the court had departed from its usual practice and declined to impose an interim suspension of the attorney. Thus, this inexcusable delay has allowed the attorney to practice in good standing as a convicted felon for over eight years (assuming he paid his annual membership dues).
I'll let you know if a decision in the case is ever issued. (Mike Frisch)
Kathleen Mahoney has this report on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended the law license of Bridget M. McCafferty, formerly a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
In August 2011, McCafferty was convicted on 10 counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement about phone conversations she had with former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo and local businessman Steve Pumper regarding cases in her courtroom. Federal officials had intercepted more than 40,000 calls as part of a federal investigation into countywide corruption. After some counts were merged, the federal court sentenced McCafferty to the maximum term of 14 months in prison with three years of supervised release, 150 hours of community service, and a $400 fine. Following her conviction, the Supreme Court suspended McCafferty’s license to practice law on an interim basis.
In a 4-3 decision today, the court found that the former judge had violated multiple professional and judicial conduct rules.
Justice William M. O’Neill, who authored the court’s majority opinion, noted that McCafferty’s misuse of her judicial position was not charged in the federal criminal complaint against the judge, so that conduct was not part of the disciplinary case before the Supreme Court.
In considering whether to disbar McCafferty, Justice O’Neill explained that the Supreme Court has sometimes determined that permanently prohibiting a judge from practicing law is appropriate when the judge is convicted of a felony, but the court has not always disbarred judges for dishonest conduct.
“Certainly McCafferty’s conduct warrants a severe sanction,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “She was convicted on multiple counts of lying to FBI agents about conversations with people who were the subject of a county-wide corruption investigation. In addition, McCafferty was deceptive about the nature of those conversations, most particularly that those conversations included matters that had been before her in court. Notwithstanding, the conduct that led to the criminal convictions and rule violations occurred during a single impromptu conversation with FBI agents, rather than as a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct. Thus, we agree with the [Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline] that imposition of the system’s most severe sanction is not warranted in this case.”
“But we also do not believe that the appropriate sanction is a fixed-term suspension,” he continued. “Despite McCafferty’s cooperative attitude during the disciplinary proceedings, we are troubled by the contradiction between McCafferty’s assertion that she accepts full responsibility for her actions and her statement that she believed that she had answered the agents’ questions as truthfully as she could. She clings to this claim, despite its utter implausibility in the face of the recorded conversations. Thus, we determine that an indefinite suspension without credit for time served [under the interim suspension] is the appropriate sanction for her misconduct.”
McCafferty’s interim suspension will continue until she completes the terms of her federal sentence. Her supervised release will end on September 17, 2015, as long as she commits no parole violations. Her indefinite suspension from practicing law will begin after she is discharged from the federal court.
The majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith L. French.
The dissenters would have disbarred McCafferty.
“I do not see how the majority can square a sanction of a mere indefinite suspension with its statements that ‘[t]his court has stated that judges are held to the highest possible standard of ethical conduct,’” Justice Lanzinger wrote. In her view, the case deserved the full measure of the court’s disciplinary authority.
“The majority focuses solely on McCafferty’s conversation with FBI agents and paints her conduct as a one-time, brief lapse in judgment,” Justice Lanzinger continued. “This narrow characterization is simply untrue; McCafferty’s misconduct was more prolonged and more egregious than the majority admits. Months before she ever spoke to the FBI, McCafferty was swaying judicial outcomes for political associates and giving special consideration to high-ranking politicians. There can be no dispute that this conduct occurred. McCafferty’s criminal indictment outlined her involvement with [then-Cuyahoga County Commissioner James] Dimora and Russo, and she stipulated, at her disciplinary hearing, to engaging in the conduct described in the indictment.”
Two of McCafferty’s disciplinary rule violations relate to her involvement with Russo and Dimora and the abuse of her judicial office, so that misconduct is part of the case before the court, Justice Lanzinger contended.
“If the primary purposes of judicial discipline are to protect the public, guarantee the evenhanded administration of justice, and to bolster public confidence in the institution, then nothing short of disbarment should be imposed in this case,” she concluded.
A Louisiana Hearing Committee found no misconduct in a case where an attorney allegedly made a false representation to a court.
The attorney sought to withdraw his client's guilty plea in a criminal case.
The prosecutor, who could not be present for a morning session of court, had signed a document reflecting that he did not oppose the motion. After signing the pleading, the prosecutor told the attorney he was getting flack from his boss about his position but did not indicate that he had retreated from his consent.
The attorney told the court that the motion was unopposed. The court nonetheless declined to rule in the prosecutor's absence.
When court resumed, the prosecutor advised the court that "negative feedback [from his superior] had ripened into flat out opposition to the motion."
The committee found that these circumstances did not establish that the attorney made a false representation concerning the position of the prosecutor. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has accepted a consent disbarment of an attorney who has been charged with criminal offenses.
Fox 25 reported on the criminal charges, initiated after a report by a female inmate at the Oklahoma County jail
Sheriff Whetsel said the investigation revealed the [attorney] Kirk only pretended to represent the woman who was in jail on drug charges. She discovered the ruse when the public defender's office contacted her about her case. That's when the woman talked to deputies and agreed to assist in the investigation.
Investigators say the woman met with Kirk inside the jail and he is heard on audio tape making advances towards her. The sheriff's office says the woman was told to use the phrase "my pants are too tight" to signal deputies to enter the room. "During his visit, Kirk furnished her with lubricating jelly and a sex toy and as this began our investigators opened the door and arrested Frank Kirk immediately."
According to court documents the female inmate told investigators that Kirk coerced her into performing sexual acts while he watched at least four times.
Deputies found a cell phone with Kirk after his arrest. Bringing a cell phone into the jail is a felony. Kirk is now facing charges of possession of contraband and multiple counts of offering to engage in an act of lewdness.
"The sex toys and lubricant and stuff like that I can't imagine in a million years any lawyer would do anything like that and hopefully there's been a misunderstanding but it doesn't seem that way to me," said defense attorney Scott Adams.
An attorney's self-report of misconduct led to his disbarment by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The self-report took place in late 2012, when the attorney learned that his law firm's trust account was being investigated by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
The attorney admitted that he had been aware of trust account shortfalls for six years and that his partner had a solution of robbing Peter to pay Paul and keep the account afloat.
Respondent did nothing to prevent the implementation of this plan and, as a result, the firm began the self-perpetuating cycle of misappropriation of client funds. Respondent actively participated in this process.
The self-report came in the wake of a client complaint over his partner's misappropriation of the proceeds of a personal injury settlement. The partner committed suicide the next day.
The attorney was placed on interim suspension within a few days of the self-report. He was convicted of mail fraud and confessed to a judgment of over $1.2 million.
Here, he consented to the disbarment.
The Palmetto State reported with respect to the partner
In Schurlknight’s case, after he committed suicide, his clients learned that he had gambled away their money and, not only that, had taken out a life insurance policy that paid money to his bookie to reimburse the bookie for his gambling losses, according to lawsuits on file in the Florence County Court of Common Pleas.
The partner's estate is the subject of a class action lawsuit initiated on behalf of former clients, according to SC Now.com:
The suit alleges that between 2007 and 2012 while practicing personal injury law that Schurlknight on many occasions settled client’s personal injury claims without their knowledge, forged their signatures on the settlement checks and kept the money for himself, while lying to clients that their case was ongoing. There are also allegations that he took out fraudulent loans in his clients’ names as well.
In addition to the allegations that he operated his law practice as “the Schurlknight family piggy bank,” the suit also said that Schurlknight not only kept the funds, but settled for far less than their actual harm.
The suit tallies up $4,262,484 that the plaintiffs say he stole, but claims the ultimate total could be between $6 million and $10 million
While the case will require analysis of the allegations of stolen money prior to Schurlknight’s death, it also hinges on claims that the defendants hid investment-grade life insurance policies from the court after he died.
The plaintiffs allege that the Schurlknight family, while represented by legal counsel, approved an inventory of the late Schurlknight’s assets that was inaccurate, and left out the insurance money that was specifically required by the probate court’s form, even though it is technically not part of the estate and in theory should have been exempt from creditors per South Carolina law.
The suit claims the purpose of the falsified inventory was “luring creditors into believing that pursuing any type of claim against the estate or its beneficiaries was hopeless as there were no funds or other assets of any kind to pursue.”
Since then the $1.5 million, which was deposited in Lee Schurlknight’s account and has been partially transferred to Malinda Schurlknight, was used to purchase three new cars and to pay $80,000 to a creditor, who the suit does not name.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Kansas has amended several rules governing bar admission.
One significant revision relates to the recent controversy concerning mental health questions.
The Supreme Court changed the language relating to its evaluation of an applicant's mental and emotional fitness to practice by deleting a reference to "mental and emotional health and condition" to "conduct," thus looking to specific behavior as a basis for inquiry rather than the existence of a condition itself.
This is a trend that we can expect to see more of as state bars react to the position of the U.S. Department of Justice (reported here by the ABA Journal) that only conduct, not a diagnosed condition, can properly be considered in the bar admissions process. (Mike Frisch)
The Kentucky Supreme Court has ordered the interim suspension of an attorney who has had a series of criminal incidents involving domestic assault and public intoxication.
The court concluded that the arrests and convictions did not establish that the attorney poses a substantial harm to clients that would merit a suspension pending further proceedings. Nor did her failure to appear for court proceedings establish a basis for interim suspension
However, the court found the attorney's mental health issues did suppport a suspension
In her response, Respondent reveals that she has not accepted a client since November of 2013. Moreover, Respondent stated that she is not currently practicing law because she is focusing on her recovery.
Based on the fact that Respondent is residing in an in-patient treatment facility, coupled with her admission that she has abandoned her law practice, we find it clear that Respondent's alcoholism is a debilitating condition which has robbed her of the mental fitness needed to practice law. Consequently, we agree with the Inquiry Commission that Respondent's license to practice law should be temporarily suspended pending disciplinary proceedings...
The Indiana Supreme Court ordered a suspension of six months with all but 60 days stayed on probation as a result of an attorney's driving offenses
In 1995, prior to his admission to the bar, Respondent was convicted on a guilty plea to Operating While Intoxicated ("OWI"), a class A misdemeanor. Respondent reported this conviction on his application for admission to the bar.
Since his admission to the bar in 1998, Respondent has been charged on seven occasions with traffic violations between April 2003 and November 2012. The first six occasions included a charge of OWI, two of which involved endangering a person. Other charges included exceeding the speed limit, unsafe lane movement, following too closely, and failure to yield. The seventh occasion resulted in a charge of a failure to stop after an accident with non-vehicle damage.
Respondent was convicted on a guilty plea to one count of reckless driving arising from the April 2003 incident. On December 3, 2013, he was convicted on a guilty plea to one count of operating with a B.A.C. of at least 0.15, a charge arising from an incident in July 2009. The remaining charges were all dismissed in conjunction with plea agreements, a pre-trial diversion agreement, or pursuant to Criminal Rule 4 (discharge for delay in criminal trials).
The probation will be supervised by the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program. The attorney will be suspended without automatic reinstatement if he violates the conditions. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, July 11, 2014
A former assistant state's attorney for Cook County has been charged with ethics violations arising out of an incident described in allegations by the Illinois Administrator.
The complaint alleges that the attorney and a companion attended a Cubs game on September 22, 2012. They drank at the game and later at a bar and restaurant with family and friends.
The complaint recites that they went to an adult merchandise store called Taboo Tabou and caused a disturbance there. An employee called for help from the establishment next door, the Blue Hawaii.
David Boone, the employee from Blue Havana, arrived and repeatedly asked Respondent and [companion] Gould to leave, but they only became more belligerent. Respondent went into her purse again and presented her States Attorney's badge to Boone. Respondent swung at Boone. Boone tried to walk away from her, but Respondent fell. Respondent got up and then began running down the street, yelling that she had been "assaulted." At the same time, Gould began videotaping Boone with his cell phone which he positioned directly in front of Boone's face. The phone hit Boone and Boone hit the phone out of Gould's hand. Gould attempted to hit Boone, but Boone punched him and Gould hit his head on the metal window frame. Respondent then charged at Boone, fell to the ground, grabbed Boone's leg and bit him, breaking the skin and causing injury to Boone's knee. Several bystanders pulled Respondent off of and away from Boone.
The police arrived and placed Respondent in handcuffs and in a police SUV where she managed to get her hands out of the handcuffs. Respondent was taken out of the SUV by a female officer, re-handcuffed and put back in the vehicle. Respondent told the officer at least six times that she was an Assistant State's Attorney. Respondent called the officer "a cunt, slut, bitch whore, and dyke" and slapped at her. Respondent got out of the handcuffs again and was kneeling on the floor of the vehicle attempting to vomit. Respondent was taken out of the vehicle again and, while sitting on the curb, proceeded to try to make herself throw up while screaming obscenities.
After the police interviewed witnesses, Respondent and Gould were arrested. Respondent was ultimately charged with attempted official misconduct, battery, resisting arrest, criminal trespass to property, assault and disorderly conduct.
The attorney and the companion were acquitted of the criminal charges but she is no longer an assistant state's attorney. (Mike Frisch)
A disciplinary record in another jurisdiction is not a bar to admission on motion, according to an opinion granting admission to an applicant by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The court admitted the attorney based on its de novo review of the adverse decision by the State Bar Commission.
The applicant is an honorably discharged Navy veteran.
She was admitted in Colorado in 2008 and Alabama in 2000. She has no disciplinary record in Colorado but was the subject of several disciplinary invesigations in Alabama.
She is in good standing in both jurisdictions.
Most of the Alabama complaints were "screened out" or dismissed. These were not disclosed in the Nebraska application, which the applicant stated was an oversight.
She disclosed two other actions --a private and a public reprimand.
There were also issues involving non-disclosure of a criminal record and her credit history.
While we do not condone these inaccuracies in [her] application, we are willing to accept [her] explanations and conclude that they are not indicative of reckless behavior which would preclude her admission in Nebraska.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
The Washington State Supreme Court has imposed a two-year suspension of an attorney for conflicts of interest and related violations in his creation and management of an elderly client's estate.
As to conflicts
The hearing officer held that Hall violated [conflicts] RPCs because he named himself as alternate trustee and health care representative, and gave himself power of attorney without fully explaining to the Keens the legal effects of these roles, including the ways in which these roles could conflict with his own interests and, in turn, adversely afiect their interests...
Being in control of Margaret's assets was in Hall's personal interest and thus there was a significant risk that his representation of the Keens could be limited by this interest. Further, there is substantial evidence that Hall did not obtain informed consent to his acquiring a pecuniary interest in Margaret's estate in the form of an $8,000 per year trustee's fee. Hall argues that the waiver provisions in his engagement letter and the will and Trust were sufficient to serve as informed consent. These waiver provisions, however, only purportedly waive the conflict created in Hall being able to hire himself for legal work for the Trust and/or the estate. They do not explain whether Hall was representing the Keens or himself in appointing himself to these roles, as is required by RPC 1.8(a)(3). There was also substantial evidence that Margaret had difficulty even reading the documents she signed and that Hall failed to read them out loud, word for word. Finally, informed consent also requires "adequate information and explanation about ... reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct." RPC 1.0( e). Here, expert witness Barbara Isenl10ur testified at the hearing that professional trust agencies are a much better option than attorneys because they are more knowledgeable and cheaper. There is no indication that Hall informed the Keens, in writing or otherwise, of such a reasonable alternative to appointing himself as future trustee.
The court affirmed findings that the attorney charged an excessive fee and failed to return original documents.
Finally, the attorney's visit to successor counsel (retained to revise the docum,ents he drew up) was prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Here's the story
On May 25, 2010, Hall made an unannounced evening visit to [attorney] Clausen's residence·---which also served as her place of business-where Clausen was with her husband and infant daughter. In a loud, angry voice, Hall called Clausen an idiot and told her that she had committed malpractice, that she was in "big trouble" and needed to "fix the problem," and that she was going to get disbarred. Verbatim Tr. of Proceedings (VTP) at 198. Clausen threatened to call the police, and Hall finally backed off, mentioning that Clausen "had a lot to lose ... a new baby and a young family and a big house" and that if he went down, she would go down. VTP at 200. Hall then sent a letter to Clausen containing random references to Communist Russia and Nazi Germany and threatening to file a lawsuit against her. Hall was removed as trustee of the Trust on May 28, 2010, but he still refused to return the original documents and continued to accuse Clausen of malpractice.
This violated the rule
...it is certainly against practice norms to show up unannounced at another attorney's home and threaten her and her family to withdraw a grievance she did not file. We affirm as to this count.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
A lawyer who had consented to disbarment in Pennsylvania received a public censure as reciprocal discipline in New Jersey.
While that might seem unusual, there were some rather unusual circumstances
The record in the matter now before us reveals that respondent’s paralegal, Bonnie Sweeten, had intercepted and concealed from respondent the petition for discipline, the equivalent of our formal ethics complaint, sent to respondent by the Pennsylvania ethics authorities. Sweeten explained her actions in an affidavit, the partial contents of which are contained in an August 25, 2009 Joint Stipulations of Fact and Law between respondent and the Pennsylvania disciplinary authorities...
The affidavit of the paralegal admited to concealing the disciplinary matter from the attorney.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later vacated the resulting suspension and remanded the matter.
Thereafter, the attorney consented to disbarment of her own accord.
The paralegal achieved a level of notoriety by a false abduction claim and embezzling her way to Disney World and then Club Fed, as reported by the Huffington Post.
But no suspension for the attorney in New Jersey based on the Pennsylvania consent for reasons the Disciplinary Review Board ("DRSB") explains
In conclusion, respondent is guilty of two separate offenses each of which would, on its own, warrant the imposition of a reprimand: practicing law while on inactive status and failing to supervise non-attorney staff. In addition, she failed to communicate with a client, used misleading letterhead and business account checks, engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and failure to safeguard client funds. We conclude that a censure sufficiently addresses the totality of respondent’s misconduct.
The Office of Attorney Ethics ("OAE") had sought a suspension with reinstatement conditioned on reinstatement in Pennsylvania, which would be tantamount to disbarment. Remarkably, the attorney did not even see fit to participate in the New Jersey proceedings.
I can understand the position of the OAE, which would not impose disbarment because there is no possibility of reinstatement in New Jersey. OAE's proposed sanction is thus quite reasonable.
The DRB's recommendation makes no sense to me at all. And the court just rubber-stamped it.
It is my experience that an attorney (particularly if represented by counsel) does not consent to disbarment unless disciplinary counsel has the goods. The idea of reciprocal discipline is basically that other jurisdictions respect and enforce a consent unless there is some grave injustice or due process violation.
I don't see any such suggestion here.
I find it quite disheartening that the New Jersey authorities would take a consent disbarment and convert it into no suspension at all as reciprocal discipline.
Notice to all Pennsylvania attorneys who are thinking about engaging in misconduct: join the New Jersey Bar. (Mike Frisch)