Thursday, March 30, 2023

Cheating Law Partners Merits Proposed Suspension

The Illinois Review Board affirmed misconduct findings of a Hearing Board and the proposed sanction to a five-month suspension in a matter where the attorney had made misrepresentations and presented false documents to his law partners

The complaint alleged that Respondent acted dishonestly by creating fake documents, including invoices, a bank statement, and checks, which he submitted to his law firm, falsely representing that he had paid business expenses totaling $81,000, as payment towards the $100,000 capital contribution he owed to his law firm, even though he had paid only $18,000 for expenses, thereby attempting to defraud the law firm of $63,000. Respondent admitted that he engaged in the charged misconduct.

The Review Board 

Attorneys absolutely cannot defraud, or attempt to defraud, their law firms, and doing so undermines the integrity of the legal profession, and damages the public’s confidence in attorneys. Cheating a law firm, like cheating a client, constitutes egregious misconduct.

We also agree with the Administrator that the aggravating factors in this case are serious, including Respondent’s attempt to conceal his misconduct. When Respondent’s partner, Douglas Sinars, first questioned Respondent about the fake invoices in May 2017, Respondent falsely denied any wrongdoing. Respondent then fraudulently created two phony checks and a fictitious bank statement in order to mislead the law firm, conceal his wrongdoing, and continue the fraud.

When Respondent was subsequently confronted by three of his partners in August 2017, Respondent initially denied any wrongdoing and acted offended that he was being accused of misconduct. Although Respondent did eventually admit to his wrongdoing, he did so only after his partners explained they had evidence that the documents he had submitted were fake. Respondent did not voluntarily stop his wrongdoing, or admit what he had done, until he realized that he had been caught.

An additional aggravating factor is the harm Respondent’s misconduct caused to the law firm. His wrongdoing placed the firm in significant jeopardy because the firm could have lost clients, and could have even been forced to close, as a result of the damage to its reputation. That, in turn, placed the firm’s clients at risk. The firm was particularly vulnerable because it was new. His misconduct also created substantial stress for people at the law firm – many of whom had left other more secure positions to work at the new firm – because they were concerned that the firm might close. His misconduct also resulted in an audit by one of the firm’s clients, which involved time and expense for the firm. Moreover, Respondent severely breached his partners’ trust. Indeed, Respondent’s partner, Douglas Sinars, testified that he felt betrayed by Respondent. (Tr. 44.)

The Administrator sought a one-year suspension. (Mike Frisch)

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