Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Evola Virus

Attorney Vito Evola has consented to disbarment in Illinois.

The report of the Hearing Board recites evidence in aggravation

...the Administrator submitted thirteen exhibits pertaining to funds  Respondent misappropriated in addition to the conversions set forth in the  Complaint. The Administrator called Respondent as an adverse witness and also  presented testimony in aggravation from Loreta Cummings, Kandice King and Nancy  Farrell. Respondent answered some questions asked of him but declined to answer  others, asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege.

After the Administrator submitted evidence at the August 14, 2014 hearing, counsel for the attorney did not contest the request for disbarment. (Mike Frisch)

September 9, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Going Home

The California State Bar Court Review Department has recommended a partially stayed two-year suspension with 90-days of active suspension and probation for two years of an attorney who had failed to appear for a scheduled civil trial.

The attorney had left his law firm to help care for his father. The misconduct took place in the wake of his father's death.

On December 22, 2011, about a month after his father died, Lazo attended a Case Management Conference. Neither party objected to the court setting a trial date of April 2, 2012. But a month later, on January 19, 2012, Lazo purchased refundable plane tickets to travel with his mother to Europe and the Middle East from March 30 (three days before the scheduled trial) through April 28, 2012. The trip was planned to coincide with a ceremony to honor the dead on April 15 in Lazo’s ancestral village in Lebanon, and included stops in Rome, Paris, and Beirut. Originally, Lazo hoped his brother would accompany his mother, but he decided to go himself when his uncle died unexpectedly on February 18, 2012.

Lazo unsuccessfully attempted to continue the Girgis trial. On February 27, 2012, he asked [opposing counsel] Ayers to agree to a continuance and emailed him his travel itinerary, which showed the  January 19, 2012 reservation date. Ayers refused Lazo’s request. Weeks later, on March 19, 2012, Lazo filed a "Notice of Non-Availability," informing the court that he would be out of the country from March 30 through April 28, 2012. On March 21, 2012, the court rejected it, confirming the April 2, 2012 trial date.

After a series of unsucessful ex parte attempts to secure a continuance, the attorney nonetheless went to Lebanon.

He sent another attorney in his stead who was not prepared to try the case, which was continued.

The state bar court found that his requests for continuance were not honest and forthright. Further, he had failed to pay sanctions imposed for his failure to appear. (Mike Frisch)

September 8, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sixty Year Career Ends in License Revocation

A 75-year-old attorney who was admitted to practice in 1962 has had his career end in license revocation by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The attorney had no prior discipline.

The problem involved handling of client funds

...we find by a convincing preponderance of evidence that Kelsen’s trust account violations included the conversion of $7500 worth of client funds without a colorable future claim to those funds. Kelsen’s claim of an oral loan agreement is not credible, and we also reject his contention that, even without a loan agreement, he would have a colorable future claim to the funds based on an expected contingent case settlement. "This conduct alone is enough to support revocation, and it is unnecessary for us to further consider the impact of his other unethical conduct."

The attorney received fees in connection with a client's discharge from employment. The attorney's wife  suffered from health problems, he lost and could not replace his secretary and had firm funds stolen from him by his stepson.


While stating that it understood Mr. Kelsen’s personal situation, the [Grievance] commission noted that personal difficulties do not excuse trust account violations. Still, as a mitigating factor, the commission took into account Kelsen’s lack of prior ethical violations. It also presumed that Kelsen had been through several successful trust account audits in the past. The commission ultimately recommended a public reprimand as a sanction.

The court vigorously rejected reprimand as a sanction for misuse of entrusted, unearned fees.

This case is noteworthy as a reminder of the stunning disconnect between the profession (here the Grievance Commission) and the court regarding the seriousness of and sanction for mishandling entrusted funds.

A proposed reprimand becomes a revocation. An attorney with no prior discipline who was admitted to practice prior to my 1963 bar mitzvah has his career end in infamy.

A cautionary tale. (Mike Frisch)

September 5, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cease And Desist

A California attorney has been ordered to cease and desist in Iowa practice within 60 days by the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board brought a complaint against Richard Clay Mendez, charging numerous violations of Iowa’s disciplinary rules. Mendez is not licensed to practice law in Iowa but acquired a Des Moines-based immigration practice and represented Iowa residents in federal immigration proceedings. A division of the Grievance Commission of the Supreme Court of Iowa determined Mendez violated certain rules governing trust accounts, fees, referrals, conflicts of interest, and neglect. The commission, with one member not participating in its deliberations, recommended we order Mendez to cease and desist from the practice of law in Iowa for a period of not less than sixty days, the period recommended by the Board. On our de novo review, we find Mendez violated our rules and order him to cease and desist from practicing law in Iowa for sixty days.

While Iowa rules allow for the federal practice, the problems involved substantive ethics violations

We conclude the numerous violations committed by Mendez require more than a public reprimand. His violations span a wide variety of rules. He disregarded our trust account rules, impermissibly contracted for nonrefundable fees, charged an unreasonable fee, improperly divided fees, neglected a client’s appeal, failed to promptly turn over a client’s file, failed to return funds promptly, failed to keep disputed funds in trust, failed to communicate with a client, and failed to disclose a conflict of interest.

The court considered mitigating and aggravating factors in imposing the sanction. One factor stood out

We find it remarkable that even by the late date of his disciplinary hearing, Mendez still had not yet read the Iowa rules he was charged with violating.

(Mike Frisch)

September 5, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Friend Named Aristotle

From the Ohio Supreme Court web page

George  Z. Pappas of Urbana will serve a two-year suspension for multiple rules  violations after a federal felony conviction for making false statements to  federal authorities. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 per curiam decision  to accept the recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances  and Discipline of a two-year suspension. Contrary to the board’s  recommendation, the court declined to grant Pappas any credit for the time he  has already served under his interim felony suspension, which the court imposed  on August 22, 2012.

In 2004, Pappas agreed to falsely  claim ownership of the Columbus law firm owned by his law school classmate and  best friend, Aristotle Matsa, who wanted to prevent his wife from getting the  firm’s records during a divorce. What Pappas did not realize was that Matsa was  involved in a tax-fraud scheme that became part of an investigation by the Internal  Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice. During the investigation  and under oath to a federal grand jury, Pappas repeatedly stated that he was  the owner of Matsa’s law firm. Pappas eventually cooperated with the federal  government’s investigation into Matsa and agreed to a plea deal for making  false statements. Pappas was sentenced in June 2012 by a federal judge to  probation for a year, including four months of home confinement.

Due to mitigating circumstances, including that  Pappas did not financially benefit from misrepresenting his ownership of the  law firm and that he eventually made “a good-faith effort to rectify the  consequences of his misconduct,” the Supreme Court agreed to the two-year  suspension but decided against granting Pappas any credit for the time he has  already served under his interim felony suspension.

Joining the majority were Chief  Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon  L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill.

Justice  Terrence O’Donnell filed a dissenting opinion stating that Pappas should be  disbarred.

“The  egregious conduct Pappas engaged in, particularly with respect to IRS agents,  and his testimony before a grand jury and representations to the Department of  Justice adversely affect the administration of justice,” Justice O’Donnell  wrote. “In my view, a two-year suspension with no credit for time served under  the interim felony suspension is not an appropriate sanction.”

Pappas  had also been sanctioned and suspended before for failing to comply with  continuing legal education requirement and failing to register.

2013-1625. Disciplinary Counsel v. Pappas, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3676.

(Mike Frisch)

September 5, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In The Footsteps Of Lincoln

The Illinois Administrator has filed a complaint alleging ethical violation by an Springfield City alderman:

As an alderman, Respondent became one of 10  aldermen who, along with the mayor, formed the legislative branch of the city  government and exercised the powers and duties of that branch of government.  Those powers and duties included, among other powers and duties, the approval of  line-item budgets for city departments, including the police department; the  passage or amendment of ordinances that govern the structure and operations of  city departments, including the police department; the approval of appointments  to certain positions, boards and commissions, including the position of Chief of  Police, and including the Springfield Civil Service Commission, which had  authority in the hiring of police officers; the approval of collective  bargaining agreements with employees' unions, including the Police Benevolent  and Protective Association ("PBPA"), which represented police officers,  detectives and sergeants; and the approval of all expenditures by the city in  excess of $100,000.

Thr gravamen of the complaint is that the attorney represented private clients in conflict with his duties as an alderman. (Mike Frisch)

September 4, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"A Bully And Clown"

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a 30-day suspension of an attorney who called a bankruptcy judge "a bully and clown" in an email sent several months after his fee petition had been denied.

The court

A federal bankruptcy court entered judgment denying a Nashville attorney’s application for approximately $372,000 in attorney’s fees and expenses. Nine months later, the attorney emailed the bankruptcy judge who denied his fee application, calling the judge a “bully and clown” and demanding that he provide a written apology for denying the fee application.

The Board of Professional Responsibility instituted a disciplinary action against the attorney, and a hearing panel of the Board found that the attorney violated several Rules of Professional Conduct by sending the email and recommended that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law for thirty days. The chancery court modified the hearing panel’s judgment to include additional violations for misconduct associated with the attorney’s briefs filed in the district court but affirmed the remainder of the hearing panel’s judgment. The attorney timely appealed to this Court. We affirm the hearing panel’s conclusion that the attorney’s email violated the rule against ex parte communications and was also sanctionable as “conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.” We conclude, however, that the hearing panel erred by finding the attorney in violation of the ethical rule that prohibits attorneys from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. We also reverse the chancery court’s modification of the hearing panel’s judgment. We affirm the attorney’s thirty-day suspension from the practice of law.

Justice Clark concurred. She would ground the sanction in a Rule 8.2 violation.

Justice Wade also issued a concurring opinion.

Both concurring opinions raise interesting issues as to what rule pigeonhole is the correct one for disrepectful language to a judge. The complicating factor was that the proceeding had ended several months prior to the email (Mike Frisch)

September 4, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gambling Man Disbarred

From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court (per Kathleen Maloney)

Stephen  L. Becker of Lima was disbarred by the court for misappropriating funds  entrusted to him as guardian for his nephew, caretaker for his aunt, and  executor of his aunt’s estate following her death, as well as in several other  client matters. Becker’s misconduct primarily fueled a gambling addiction, the  court stated in its decision.

In  1983, Becker was appointed as guardian of the estate of his nephew, who was  then a minor and suffers from severe developmental disabilities. Becker made  various “loans” from the guardian account to friends, his daughter, and  himself. The loans were not disclosed, as required, to the probate court.

Becker  also cared for an elderly aunt for more than 20 years. He was named her power  of attorney, and they shared a joint bank account. In July and August 2005,  Becker wrote $37,000 in checks to four casinos. Between October and December,  he withdrew $9,500 in cash from the account, wrote three checks to casinos  totaling $22,000, and took $25,000 from the account to repay money he had  improperly taken from his nephew. The court noted other misappropriations in  2007, 2008, and 2010.

After  his aunt died, Becker, as executor of her estate, also inappropriately used  funds and intentionally filed false and misleading reports about how the money  was used and distributed to his aunt’s beneficiaries.

In the  court’s unanimous decision, Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote that it is clear  Becker has a gambling addiction given the substantial amount of money he paid  to casinos from these accounts. While a gambling problem could be mitigating in some cases, Justice  Pfeifer noted that “Becker’s failure to pursue any kind of consistent help for  his problem eliminates this factor as possible mitigation.”

He  concluded, “[W]e have consistently stated that ‘the primary purpose of the  disciplinary process is not to punish the offender but to protect the public  from lawyers who are unworthy of the trust and confidence essential to the  attorney-client relationship.’ … In this case, it is obvious that an extreme sanction  is necessary to protect the public. … Given the extent and duration of the  various misappropriations and the helplessness of some of the victims  (including a disabled nephew and an elderly aunt), we are confident that  disbarment is the appropriate sanction.”

2013-1257. Disciplinary  Counsel v. Becker, Slip  Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-3665.

(Mike Frisch)

September 3, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bribed Prosecutor Resigns From Bar

The Indiana Supreme Court accepted the resignation of an attorney convicted of bribery.

IndyStar had this report on the conviction

Former deputy prosecutor David Wyser's after-the-fact acceptance of a $2,500 reward for approving the early release of a convicted killer was a "wobble" in an otherwise unblemished career of public service, federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker said Monday as she sentenced Wyser to three years of probation.

The sentence, which will begin in January with six months of house arrest at Wyser's home in Nevada, was significantly less than the 15 to 21 months in prison sought by federal prosecutors.

And from the Herald Bulletin

The Indiana Supreme Court has accepted the resignation of former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor David Wyser from the practice of law in Indiana.                                                                                

Wyser was placed on an indefinite suspension in February after pleading guilty to bribery charges. Rather than try and fight the suspension, he chose to resign from the Indiana Bar which the court accepted last week.

In 2009, while working in the Marion County prosecutor's office, he accepted a bribe of $2,500 from the father of a convicted murderer Wyser was representing. The bribe was made as a political donation when Wyser was running for Marion County prosecutor. In exchange, Wyser was able to get his client's sentence reduced from 110 years to 70 years to time served after the contributions.

Wyser is now banned from practicing law in Indiana for at least five years when he may apply for reinstatement if he chooses. 

He had worked in Madison County as a deputy prosecutor from January 2012 to May 2013, but resigned after the allegations of bribery. The case was not connected to his work in Madison County, Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said in previous news stories.

(Mike Frisch)

September 3, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mother's Day

A case highlight from the September 2014 edition of the California Bar Journal

A San Francisco Bay Area attorney has lost her license to practice law for using the legal system to try to control her adult son and for misappropriating his settlement funds. ELIZABETH M. BARNSON KARNAZES [#118922], 59, of Foster City, was disbarred June 13, 2014 and ordered to make restitution and comply with rule 9.20 of the California Rules of Court.

Karnazes was initially reviewed on evidence of nine counts of misconduct, but the Review Department of the State Bar Court ultimately found her culpable of seven of those charges, including failing to maintain records of client funds or maintain client funds in her client trust account and of misappropriation and commingling. The three-judge panel wrote that Karnazes was so focused on controlling her son, Zachary, that she lost sight of her ethical obligations.

“Ignoring his desperate need for his funds, Karnazes utilized her position as Zachary’s attorney to escalate the pressure she applied on him over a three-year period when she continued to refuse payment, and ultimately attempted to take control by becoming conservator of his estate,” Joann M. Remke, then the State Bar Court’s presiding judge, wrote on behalf of the panel.

“This conduct illustrates the danger of an attorney, trained in persuasion and in a superior position to exert influence, who uses such skills and circumstances to force a client – in this case, her son – to bow to her wishes,” Remke wrote.

In January 2005, Karnazes signed a fee agreement to provide legal services for her son, who was 18 at the time, and ultimately represented him in at least three different lawsuits. One was for injuries Zachary allegedly suffered in a drug treatment program; another for injuries allegedly suffered when a school administrator abused him on a camping trip; and a third for injuries he allegedly suffered due to physical abuse.

Karnazes settled the first two lawsuits in 2009 for $40,000 and $60,000 respectively, depositing the money in her client trust account. After attorney fees and $7,500 Karnazes had given him as an advance were deducted, Zachary was entitled to $33,739.45. Despite numerous requests in person and by telephone, Karnazes did not give him the money, leading him to send her five written requests in October and November. At the time, her son had been unemployed since May 2008 and was living on disability payments.

“He had to travel by bus to and from medical appointments, could not afford his own telephone and ate free meals at a soup kitchen,” Remke wrote. “Despite Zachary’s requests for payment, Karnazes did not distribute his funds. Instead, she accused him of hating her and abandoning her when she needed him most.”

In August 2009, Karnazes deposited a check for $97,750, money she drew against her home equity account, into her client trust account, immediately withdrawing $50,000. A few months later, she deposited another $22,500 of her own funds into the account and gradually withdrew it over time.

Zachary filed a complaint with the State Bar the following summer over his mother’s refusal to give him his settlement money. Several months later, Karnazes filed a petition in San Mateo County Superior Court seeking to be appointed conservator of Zachary’s estate. At the time she was still representing him in the third lawsuit she filed on his behalf and claimed he was 100 percent disabled for mental health reasons. The court ultimately denied Karnazes’ petition with prejudice, concluding Zachary was capable of making his own decisions. The court of appeal affirmed the decision and the California Supreme Court denied Karnazes’ petition for review.

Meanwhile, in 2010 Karnazes obtained a default judgment in her son’s third lawsuit and deposited $56,995 she received from the defendant’s insurance company in her client trust account. At that point, after deducting her fees and costs, Karnazes owed her son at least $57,496.15. On March 29, 2011, she offered to give Zachary a cashier’s check for $63,000 on condition that he release his right to any disputed funds from the settlements and not discuss the terms of their agreement. Zachary refused the offer.

On June 21, 2012, four days before the start of her disciplinary trial, Karnazes gave Zachary a check for $53,507.97 and an accounting that omitted multiple withdrawals from the client trust account, failed to account for the whole time she was holding his funds and overstated her attorney fees. Assuming the costs she was claiming were accurate, Karnazes should have paid him $3,988.18 more than she gave him. She was ordered to pay that amount plus interest in restitution.

Karnazes had one prior record of discipline, a January 2010 public reproval that followed her misdemeanor conviction for trespassing. Karnazes was initially charged with grand theft and theft from a merchant for stealing items from two stores, but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Two court-appointed doctors examined her and concluded she was sane at the time of the thefts. The district attorney amended the charges to include a misdemeanor trespass violation and Karnazes pleaded no contest to that charge.

(Mike Frisch)

September 2, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Attorney Reprimanded, Conviction Of Client Reversed

The Arkansas Professional Conduct Committee - Panel A - has reprimanded an attorney who engaged in a conflict of interest by representing both husband and wife in a case involving felony sexual abuse allegations made by the wife's daughter

The conduct of Max M. Horner, Jr. violated AR Rule 1.7(a) in that (1) Horner jointly represented both Marcus Rackley and his wife Cynthia Rackley in serious criminal charges arising from the same matter; Horner represented Marcus Rackley at a jury trial in which he received a thirty-seven year prison sentence, where Horner had a concurrent conflict of interest; and his representation of Mrs. Rackley was directly adverse to Horner’s stated trial defense strategy for her husband. (2) Horner jointly represented both Marcus Rackley and his wife Cynthia Rackley in serious criminal charges arising from the same matter, and Horner represented Marcus Rackley at a jury trial in which he received a thirty-seven year prison sentence, where Horner had a concurrent conflict of interest, and there was a significant risk that the representation of Mr. Rackley would be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to Horner’s other joint client, Mrs. Rackley. (3) Horner attempted to jointly represented both Marcus Rackley and his wife Cynthia Rackley in serious criminal charges arising from the same matter; Horner represented Marcus Rackley at a jury trial in which he received a thirty-seven year prison sentence, where Horner had a concurrent conflict of interest, and there was a significant risk that the representation of Mrs. Rackley would be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, Mr. Rackley; and at Mr. Rackley’s trial, Horner had Mrs. Rackley take the Fifth Amendment to attempt to keep her testimony from Mr. Rackley’s jury, when her testimony clearly might have been favorable to Mr. Rackley, especially to counter or explain adverse testimony by State witnesses Luebke and Thessing about their conversations with Mrs. Rackley. Arkansas Rule 1.7(a) requires that, except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest.

The husband's conviction was reversed as a result by the Arkansas Supreme Court

Because Mr. Horner was required under his ethical obligation to adequately represent both clients’ interests, even if conflicting, he was not free to explore all avenues in developing his trial strategy to present the best possible defense for appellant at trial. In developing his impeded trial strategy, Mr. Horner ethically could not ignore the fact that Mrs. Walters’ testimony, whether favorable to appellant or not, could further implicate her as well. Therefore, even though he testified that he believed that her interests were “united” with appellant’s, he was faced with the ethical dilemma of representing two clients simultaneously who had conflicting interests.

(Mike Frisch)

September 2, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Theft From Elderly Client Draws Prison, Disbarment

A Virginia attorney has consented to disbarment in the wake of a criminal conviction.

The Washington Post reported on the offense

A Fairfax County attorney was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for embezzling nearly $500,000 while he was entrusted to care for an elderly woman and her estate, according to the Virginia attorney general’s office.

James G. Kincheloe, Jr., 67, who lives in Fauquier County, was convicted of a single count of embezzlement in the case in Fairfax County Circuit court in July. Kincheloe entered an Alford plea, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.

Fairfax County Judge Jane M. Roush ruled that Kincheloe will have to repay more than $483,000 to the estate of Pearl Buckley, a Fairfax City resident who died in 2009 at the age of 90. A separate civil suit by the family claimed almost $900,000 was taken from Buckley.

(Mike Frisch)

September 2, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rocky Mountain Bye

There has been a fair amount of discussion about the ethical issues that attorneys may face in representing clients in the medical (and legal in some states) marijuana business.

Colorado leads the way and has what may be a first -- an attorney disbarred for misconduct in the representation of a medical marijuana business.

Howver, the reasons for the sanction are not on the cutting edge of client representation

Respondent presented fabricated documents and false statements to the People during a disciplinary investigation, which prevented the disciplinary system from functioning as the Colorado Supreme Court intended that it should. He produced those same documents in the GreenVisionTek litigation and testified to their authenticity at trial. Because his falsifications and misrepresentations reflect such a complete deviation from the appropriate ethical standards for members of the legal profession, the Hearing Board concludes that Respondent must be disbarred.

The attorney's client was the seller of the business. He fabricated emails to insert the suggestion that he had so advised the potential buyer.

The false emails initially were produced in response to bar investigation resulting from opposing counsel's complaint over the attorney's handling of his secrow account. The emails were then produced in civil litigation. (Mike Frisch)

September 2, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hello You Must Be Going

An Oklahoma attorney found to have engaged in unauthorized Colorado practice has been disbarred in Colorado.

The attorney had purchased two Colorado accounting firms in partnership with a Colorado accountant. Over a three-year period, he set up multiple law offices in Colorado and held himself out a licensed to practice out of those offices.

He applied for Colorado bar admission but abandoned the effort after failing to provide information sought in connection with the application.

Another example (there are many others) of losing a license that never was granted. (Mike Frisch)

August 29, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Clear And Convincing Evidence Required For Revocation Of Disciplinary Probation

The standard of proof for a violation of disciplinary probation is clear and convincing evidence, according to a recent decision of the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The court found that the attorney-probationer had charged excessive fees and failed to supervise non-lawyer staff

 the billing records provided by [the attorney] reflect that she double-billed, she billed for overhead items, and she billed at the wrong hourly rate...

[She] argues her fee is reasonable even though it contains minor billing errors because, she claims, a bill containing de minimus billing errors has never resulted in discipline in North Dakota. She also argues she performed a substantial amount of legal work which was not billed and which was substantially greater than the total amount of billing errors. Despite these contentions, [her] improper billing previously discussed is sufficient to establish that her fee is unreasonable...

There is a dissent as to sanction

Upon revocation, we must determine the appropriate length of suspension. The majority does not answer this directly; instead suspending [the attorney] for 30 days in a combination of imposing new discipline and revoking the stayed suspension. I respectfully disagree with the adequacy of that action as it relates to revocation of the stayed suspension. I made plain in the 2011 proceeding that I thought a 90-day suspension was appropriate and that staying the suspension was ill-advised. See Kellington, 2011 ND 241, ¶ 19, 809 N.W.2d 298 (Crothers, J., dissenting). I continue to believe principles of graduated and proportional discipline require revocation of the stay and imposition of suspension for the full original 90 days. That is especially true when viewed in the context of this disciplinary proceeding, which is [her] eighth since 1996. See id. at ¶ 16 (Crothers, J., dissenting).

(Mike Frisch)

August 28, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Colbert Report

An attorney convicted of a tax offense has been suspended for two years by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

The court noted

In determining the appropriate measure of discipline to impose, the respondent asks that the Court consider the following mitigating factors: his excellent reputation—both personally and professionally—for honesty, integrity, and conscientious adherence to standards of professional ethics; the aberrational nature of his misconduct; his full and complete acceptance of responsibility for his misconduct; his genuine remorse and contrition; his prompt and full restitution to the Internal Revenue Service; the unrelated nature of the misconduct to the practice of law; the lack of harm to any client; his two decades of practice with an unblemished disciplinary record; the price he has already paid professionally (leaving a law partnership he helped to create); time already spent under interim suspension; his community and volunteer activities; his devotion to his family; and the crucial role the respondent plays in the ongoing psychological rehabilitation of his son.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned mitigating factors, the respondent knowingly filed false returns for several years, taking deductions and reporting losses to which he was not entitled, and thereafter engaged in conduct to cover up his criminal conduct. The respondent earned substantial income during the years in question, and when audited, could easily have paid the back taxes, penalties, and interest, but chose instead to lie to the Internal Revenue Service, engaging in deceitful and obstructive conduct. He conceded that he had no justification for his misconduct, other than the fact that he had chosen a lifestyle above his means.

The court gave credit for time served on interim suspension for the conviction. (Mike Frisch)

August 28, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Eight Ball, Disbarred Pocket

The Maryland Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney well-known for his television advertising.

Danny Jacobs of The Daily Record had the story of the bar proceedings.

If you’re a Baltimore native of a certain age, you might recognize the ball and pool table pictured above.

Give up? That’s the “legal rights eight ball” that opens a commercial featuring personal injury lawyer Neil Lewis, who says in the spot he does not want you to get stuck behind it.

I have never met Neil Lewis but I have not forgotten that commercial. Which is why, on Thursday, when I saw a lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court against Neil Lewis, my first thought was, “The Lewis Law Line?”

I watched that commercial a few times Thursday as I was writing about the Attorney Grievance Commission seeking to halt Lewis from practicing law.

...The juxtaposition between the AGC’s allegations and Lewis’ commercial is jarring. Lewis says he has recovered “millions of dollars” in damages for his clients; the AGC alleges Lewis deposited settlement checks on behalf of clients and used the money for unauthorized purposes. Lewis says, “I receive no fee, nor is there any cost to you unless we win”; the AGC counters some of Lewis’ clients were hit with collection lawsuits from medical services providers that Lewis was supposed to pay with money from a settlement or verdict.

I’ll keep tabs on the city lawsuit and AGC disciplinary petitions as they move forward.

In the meantime, one aspect of my story left me wondering. A hearing judge wrote in her findings that Lewis had approximately 800 open files in the year he was being investigated. To any personal injury lawyers out there: Is that a lot of files for a lawyer to have open at once?

The disbarment was based on a joint consent petition filed by the attorney and the Attorney Grievance Commision. (Mike Frisch)

August 27, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

That's What Makes A Horse Race

The Illinois Administrator has filed a complaint alleging that a Kentucky lawyer engaged in unauthorized practice of law in connection with various horse-related matters

On October 7, 2003, Respondent was admitted to practice law in Kentucky. On September 30, 2009, she registered for non-practice exemption status with that State, wherein she would remain in good standing as a member of that bar without complying with any of the jurisdiction’s continuing legal education requirements, but she would not be permitted to practice law in Kentucky.

Between at least July 6, 2013, and April 13, 2014, Respondent represented four different clients in steward’s inquiries relating to allegations of misconduct by horse racing owners and trainers conducted by the Illinois Racing Board ("Board") pursuant to Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975, 230 ILCS 5/31.

Between at least July 6, 2013, and April 13, 2014, in the following four matters, Respondent appeared for proceedings held by stewards on behalf of owners or trainers whose conduct was the subject of inquiries...

Between at least September 30, 2013, and February 19, 2014, Respondent represented Stevanna E. Turner ("Turner") in a matter before the United States Trotting Association ("USTA") relating to allegations of a misuse of banned substance in a horse owned by Turner during a horse racing event at the Edgar County fair.

On February 19, 2014, USTA Board of Review held a hearing relating to an appeal by Turner regarding the ruling that Turner’s horse had tested positive for a banned substance. Respondent appeared at the hearing as Turner’s counsel.

During the hearing...Respondent was identified by various individuals, including the chair of the USTA Board of Review, at various times as "counsel for defendants", "appellants’ counsel", "defense counsel", "attorney", and "counsel." At no time did Respondent deny or correct the descriptions of her as counsel or attorney.

By failing to correct other individuals’ description of her at counsel or attorney, Respondent misled the USTA Board of Review. Respondent intentionally led the USTA Board of Review to believe that she was authorized to practice law in Illinois, when she was not.

During the hearing...while arguing the case on behalf of Turner, Respondent made legal arguments regarding rules of the Illinois Department of Agriculture; USTA rules; the jurisdiction of the USTA; and the integrity of a test sample of the drug purportedly administered to Turner’s horse.

The complaint further alleges failure to cooperate in the bar's investigation.  (Mike Frisch)

August 27, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Plethora Of Crimes

The Fen-phen litigation (and other serious criminal misconduct) has led to another disbarment.

The Kentucky Supreme Court accepted the consent disbarment of a 34 year old attorney convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud and other offenses

Count I charged that Movant committed mail fraud in connection with a lawsuit brought in the wake of the well-known, and notorious, Fen-phen litigation to recover funds wrongfully diverted from the Fen-phen plaintiffs. Movant devised a scheme to divert to his own personal accounts, S 14,963.05 that his firm collected for the Fen-phen clients.

Count III of the information charged Movant with committing wire fraud by devising a scheme by which he fraudulently gained access under false pretenses to a bank account of his associate, Angela Ford, and stole money from her. Movant used that money to cover amounts he had stolen from Clients, and which he had diverted to his personal use, including his role in a conspiracy to illegally distribute synthetic marijuana as set out in Count 5.

The attorney also ackowledged mail fraud in an estate matter, conspiracy to distribute synthetic marijuana, tax offenses and obstruction of justice. (Mike Frisch)

August 25, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Suspension For Multiple Client Settlement Violations

 The Oregon Supreme Court imposed a 90-day suspension for misconduct that

arose as a result of settlements that the accused had brokered for a group of clients—all sexual abuse victims—in civil actions brought against the Portland Archdiocese, the State of Oregon, and Father Michael Sprauer.

The court

we first observe that, when the accused began his representation of the Sprauer plaintiffs, he recognized that, although their interests did not presently conflict, they could conflict at some point in the future. He subsequently wrote letters to each of his clients outlining the advantages and disadvantages of joint representation, advised them to obtain independent legal advice, and obtained their consent to proceed with joint representation. As noted, the JRAs that the plaintiffs signed explained that the accused would endeavor to negotiate each client’s claims individually and that he would have no role in any allocation decision.

When the accused began negotiations with the Archdiocese, he proceeded as agreed. The accused conferred with his clients individually and helped each decide on an acceptable individual settlement offer. As the Bar correctly recognizes, when the accused added those amounts together and offered to settle with the Archdiocese for the resulting total, the accused did not violate any rule of professional conduct. However, when the Archdiocese offered to settle for a figure that was nearly twice that total, a conflict arose. Each plaintiff had an interest in obtaining as great a portion of the surplus settlement as he could. Under those circumstances, the accused was ethically prohibited from deciding how to allocate the sum offered, and the accused does not contend otherwise.

When the conflict arose, the attorney failed to secure the required informed written consent and

An additional problem for the accused—and, in our view, an even more significant one—is evident in his division of the proceeds of the state settlement. Before negotiating the state settlement, the accused had informed his clients that, “[i]f all of you agreed to settle your cases on the same percentage basis as we did in the past, then I do not have a conflict.” However, when the accused accepted the state’s offer to settle the claims of all the Sprauer plaintiffs for a $1.05 million lump sum, he did not, in fact, distribute those funds on that basis. In his brief, the accused does not address that failure nor allude, as he did at the trial panel hearing, to possible “mathematical errors.” From the letters that the accused sent to the Bar, it appears that the accused decided, after agreeing to settle with the state, which client should receive what portion of the state settlement. The accused’s method of allocation may have been exceedingly fair, but each dollar that the accused allocated to one plaintiff was a dollar that he did not allocate to another—an allocation decision that, as he recognized in his JRAs, was one  in which he was to have no role. The accused’s decision to allocate the sum of $7,500 to New also was problematic for the same reason. The distribution to New may have been fair—perhaps more than fair, given New’s criminal history and the accused’s willingness to waive attorney fees and costs—but by allocating $7,500 to New, the accused deprived other client of those funds.

The court rejected charges of misrepresentations to the clients.

As to sanction

What we do find is that the accused’s substantial experience in the law had made him aware of the ethical problems that could arise if he were to participate in the allocation of a lump sum settlement offer; yet—particularly with respect to the state settlement—that is exactly what the accused did. In addition, the accused did not obtain the informed consent required by the rules of professional conduct at issue here, and, as a result, he exposed his clients to a risk of injury. Those are significant violations that, in light of the accused’s disciplinary history, warrant more than a 30-day suspension. We conclude that a 90-day suspension is appropriate.

The Portland Tribune reported on the case and noted

Gatti has been disciplined by the Supreme Court before. 

In 2000, the justices issued a public reprimand after he posed as a chiropractor while he attempted to obtain information about medical reviews by an insurance company that denied injury claims of workers. 

The court held that he violated a State Bar rule against deceit, but Gatti said he used deceit as an investigative tool.

Gatti claimed victory when the high court modified the rule in 2002, after federal prosecutors said it would hamper their investigative efforts when they directed others to engage in deceit.

A good teaching example of the dangers of settling claims for multiple clients. (Mike Frisch)

August 22, 2014 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)