Pretend you are a Supreme on DI cases; Duty when depressed; Sign Here Please; Filing Taxes is Timely

As a trial, I will be sharing the facts of a few DI cases, and poll the readers how they think the Court ruled, as punishment for the violations. Later in the blog entry I disclose the Court’s actual decision. Are you tougher than a Supreme?

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William Dittrich neglected several cases over a four-year period. The neglect included failing to do the work, refusing to respond to clients’ requests for information, not placing unearned fees in trust and failing to refund unearned fees.

He knew he had health and depression issues, but did not seek adequate treatment, and placed his interests ahead of his clients’ interests.

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Unsigned document to file with the court, client forgot to sign her name. What do you do? There are several wrong answers: file it unsigned, ask the staff to sign for the client, or worst of all – sign the client’s name to the document. Ray Robison chose the worst of the options.

Sisters were co-personal representatives, one signed all but one document in the stack of papers. Robison signed her name to the unsigned document, then sent them to the sister for her signatures. Sister noticed that the signature was not right.

Robison cooperated, withdrew without a fight, and the court acknowledged that his purpose was to avoid inconveniencing a client. But it was a violation of Rule 8.4 on fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation.

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SC lawyer David Flowers failed to file tax returns for 2007-2010. An anonymous complainant reported these facts to the South Carolina Disciplinary Commission, and it got ugly. SC found he violated Rule 8.4 of the RPC, together with two other codes of lawyer conduct.

He admits he wants to give up the practice of law, and suffers from the stress of the practice. He has not yet paid the taxes due.

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Dittrich, got 90 day suspension with automatic reinstatement. Is working with JLAP according to the Opinion.

Robison got an agreement for a public reprimand accepted by the Court.

Flowers got 90 day “definite suspension” meaning that he must file for reinstatement, and he may not file until after he pays the taxes. There must have been some interest in figuring out who the “anonymous source” was, as it made the opinion.

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Tell me if you liked the polls in the body of the blog.

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Sex causes trouble for lawyers and (sr.) judge; Theft and Tax Evasion are problems too.

New York lawyers

In NYC a law firm partner got sued for sexually harassing a junior lawyer in the firm. That happens and is hardly news anymore. What got the NY Times to react was – he not only denied it, but he filed a counterclaim. She says he had his way, against her will, several times and places. Her claim, she quits her job due to his actions, and sues him and the firm.

He comes firing back and gets headlines. He says he turned her down and called a cab to take her home after she suggested that “if he wanted, she would not say no!” He says she was spurned, and “Hell hath no fury…” This will be interesting to watch. Embedded in the Times article is the so-called “lurid complaint” and the counterclaim.

Indiana Sr. Judge and practicing lawyer

Lisa Traylor-Wolff is from near my office, and was the judge of the then two-county  (Fulton-Pulaski) County Court before we asked the legislature to separate the courts in the 1990s.  Several years ago the Pulaski County voters chose another to serve as judge, and she has been practicing since that election – probably 8-10 years ago.  She has served as Senior Judge under the Administrative Rules, #5(B), since her return to private practice.

She was appointed the public defender of S.W. a prisoner at the Miami Correctional Center, and according to the Supreme Court’s Published Order “engaged in an improper romantic relationship” with the client S.W.  That was a violation of Rule 1.7 (a)(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and as she is qualified as a Sr. Judge, the actions also violated Rules 1.2 and 3.1(C) of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct.

For this Traylor-Wolff gets a lifetime suspension from serving in any judicial capacity, and a one year suspension from the practice of law, with all but 45 days withheld, and two years of probation. Among the probation terms are working with JLAP; stay away from S.W. (is he the victim?); no violations of RPC; and pay costs.

Marion County Prosecutor goes after admitted and alleged bad lawyers

Terry Curry is going after bad guys, and as prosecutor that is his (and his office’s) job.  Two recent targets are Indy lawyers David Rees and Steven Geller. 

Rees is alleged to have stolen estate funds, after eight years of administration of the estate of his client there was about $400,000 unaccounted for. He also was charged with Obstruction of Justice for filing a false “final accounting” that claimed the missing money was still in the account.

According to the Prosecutor’s press release, Rees has admitted the theft of $270,549 of estate funds, agreed to plead guilty and could face up to eight years for the Class C and D felonies.

Geller was charged with the failure to file multiple Indiana tax returns, earning an Evasion of Tax charge as a Class D Felony. Expect the federal charges to follow.

Report the Claim; Trust Account Abuse

Lawyer Messed Up Deal, Better Report

Koransky Bouwer & Poracky P.C. had an associate mess up. It ended up in Federal Court, then the 7th Cir. <here>.  Lots to put on the back of an associate.

The young associate filed a signed contract rather than send it to the parties as evidence that the deal was completed. The party not represented by the firm withdrew its acceptance before delivery of the contract to all parties, black letter law allows that. Client is justifiably upset.

While this is going on, the law firm that the associate works for, Koransky & Bouwer, renews its malpractice coverage with The Bar Plan, its professional liability carrier. In the process, there is a question that reads something like “are there any claims or potential claims in existence, now or before we renew?”  Firm, which knew about this problem, with one of the name partners being involved in the matter, said “no problem” [or words to that effect].

Client, not happy to have lost the contract sues the firm, who turns the complaint over to the PLP company.  It says something like “wait, from these dates and all, it appears you knew of this claim when you renewed your insurance, and you did not tell us.” Another black letter issue in the law is that a misstatement in an insurance application will void the application. So the Bar Plan says: “We have no duty to defend or pay for the claim!” K&B filed for declaratory judgment on that issue in ND Ind. federal court, the trial court said “sorry law firm, no coverage.” The 7th Circuit agreed.
Lesson? The quick response application often found in policy renewals is not your friend. Your duty to disclose still exists. Does that mean you must report every disgruntled client who might conceivably file a claim? This blog does not offer legal advice, but I recommend you read the underlying policy about when you need to submit a timely claim.

One lawyer has suggested that the insurance company should be required to show that it was prejudiced by the delay in the notice, but that is not the current state of the law, in this Circuit.

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Watch the Trust Account

Edguardo Martinez Suarez is a Hamilton County lawyer, with a pattern of trust account problems. In 2006 he bounced a trust account check, which automatically brought the Disciplinary Commission in via the rule of mandatory reporting of bounced trust checks by a bank holding an IOLTA account. Suarez said “it is a mistake” but could not show how the mistake occurred. In 2009 the Commission demanded a CPA audit of the account, but the CPA reported there was a lack of documents to allow for an audit.

With that, the Commission started an in-house audit. The Supreme Court characterized the findings as many “violations, which took place from 2006 through 2012, includ[ing] at least six instances of paying personal and business expenses from the trust account, 55 instances of disbursing funds in excess of the amount held in trust for each corresponding client, and making 14 cash withdrawals.”

Then to compound problems he committed another violation, keeping more than “a nominal balance of” personal funds commingled to protect the account. But the court, in reviewing the Agreed Stipulation with Suarez, found three good things: no prior discipline history; no selfish motive on Suarez’s part; and, no client lost any funds from his violations.

The parties agreed to a 60 day suspension, stayed with two years probation. For two years he must: 1) maintain his trust account in accordance with the Disciplinary Commission’s 51 page white paper on Trust Account Management: Handling Client and Third Party Funds most recently updated in March 2012; 2) Have the Trust Account monitored by a CPA approved by the Commission, and have quarterly reports made to the Commission; and, 3) Agree that a violation of probation will cause the 60 day suspension to go into effect, and there will be no automatic reinstatement after the suspension. Finally, at the end of probation Suarez will be required to petition for dismissal of the probation. Somehow he was not ordered into the CLE on trust account management.

Seems like an appropriate disposition, as no clients were harmed by the mistakes. Management of the trust account is one of the most critical skills an attorney with trust account duties must have. Failure there is a ticket to Discipline World, and it is tough to get out with your skin intact.

There are CLE courses on Trust Account management, the DC staff often are speakers. Indiana’s Solo and Small Firm Conference has done sessions on this in 2004 and 2007, and likely will do more. ISBA-CLE and ICLEF do sessions annually. A great book is out there by one of the ABA’s most successful writers, Jay Foonberg titled “The ABA Guide to Lawyer Trust Accounts” (my version is dated 1996.)

Protect yourself and your clients and your license. Review Rule 1.15 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and Admission & Discipline Rule 23 Sec. 29-30, and Overdraft Rule 2.