Thursday, January 27, 2022

Recklessness Equals Disbarment

Applying the rule articulated in its en banc decision in In re Addams, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals disbarred an attorney who had engaged in reckless misappropriation

We conclude there is substantial evidence to support the Board’s finding that Ekekwe-Kaufmann recklessly misappropriated client funds and we therefore adopt that finding. Disbarment is the presumptive sanction for reckless misappropriation. In re Addams, 579 A.2d 190, 191 (D.C. 1990) (en banc). This case involves no “extraordinary circumstances” meriting departure from the presumptive sanction, id., and none of Ekekwe-Kauffman’s other challenges alter the conclusion that disbarment is warranted here. We therefore adopt the Board’s recommended sanction and disbar Ekekwe-Kauffman from the practice of law in the District of Columbia.

The court noted

This is not Ekekwe-Kauffman’s first time through the disciplinary process. In 2008, Disciplinary Counsel opened an investigation into Ekekwe-Kauffman in response to a former client’s complaint. See In re Ekekwe-Kauffman, 210 A.3d 775, 782-83 (D.C. 2019). In that case, like this one, the Board ultimately recommended we disbar Ekekwe-Kauffman based on her reckless misappropriation of client funds. We rejected that recommendation because we concluded the evidence did not support the conclusion that Ekekwe-Kauffman had in fact misappropriated client funds; although the evidence showed that she commingled client funds with her own, the evidence was lacking as to the “more egregious” conduct of misappropriation.


We nonetheless suspended her from the practice of law in the District for three years for a host of other violations.


Substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that there was misappropriation in all four instances. First, Ekekwe-Kauffman testified that none of the four clients authorized her to use their money, or to use money set aside to pay third parties on their behalf, for any purpose aside from paying the amounts due. Yet, in all four cases the record establishes that, at least temporarily, EkekweKauffman used entrusted funds by letting her trust account dip below the amounts owed to clients and to third parties on their behalf. Her misappropriations were not always of substantial sums, and were not always for protracted periods, but in each case the evidence shows that some misappropriation occurred.


Ekekwe-Kauffman’s handling of entrusted funds evinces practically all of the hallmarks of reckless misappropriation. She commingled funds between her trust and operating accounts repeatedly and indiscriminately. She likewise moved money among her personal, business, and trust accounts, haphazardly covering shortfalls in each account by drawing on the balance of the others.

Associate Judge Deahl authored the unanimous opinion. (Mike Frisch)

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