Telling the Client’s Story; Drinking, Twice?; Calculated Fraud?

Must be Tempting

To know a juicy story, with sex, politics, and prominent people, and be forbidden to tell, is tough.  It is such a temptation that the authorities wrote a rule especially for lawyers, to threaten us not to reveal confidential information.  But Karl Rove is also a tempting target.  And there is money in writing books, so they say.

It is tough to deal with one temptation, but two, or three all at the same time?  Joseph Stork Smith, of Carmel, IN, did not handle the pressure well, apparently.  He decided to write the book, name the names, and tell the sordid stories that he got from his legal client. Some have speculated on who the client is, but the Indiana Supreme Court in its Order did not name her.  I respect that. And having read the opinion, it is pretty juicy writing for a per curiam decision.

Smith got a disbarment. End of the line for him.  Started practice in 1976, so early he is in his early 60s most likely.  Succumbed to temptations.

Maybe if he had not subtitled the book “Machiavelli’s Sexy Twin Sister”….

Once ought to be enough.

Allen County, IN Public Defender Mitchell Hicks, has seen the twice drunken arrestee too many times in the practice, he has to know better, but….“I screwed up,” he said.

A fight with a former client outside a bar… an unregistered gun… trouble. Arrested for a second alcohol offense, he took it like an adult (unlike so many defendants). Sentencing was as follows:

[Judge Fran] Gull ordered Hicks to serve 60 days at the Allen County Jail on the drunken driving charge but suspended 50 days of that sentence. She ordered him to serve 365 days on the charge of carrying a handgun without a license but suspended 275 days.

She then said he could serve his time in the county community corrections program and that his [driver’s] license will be suspended for 180 days.

100 days of home detention. No Disciplinary Action by the Indiana Supreme Court, yet.

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Biglaw lawyers ought to know!

Some firm names just ring out as BIGLAW, and among the biggest is Baker & McKinzie.  Biglaw firms have lots of people around, and they suggest that lots of people provide good protection for their clients. When you get billed for 10 lawyers work on your business matter, you should have especially good protection from the harms that some solo or other errant lawyer might commit.

Not in the case of Martin Weisberg!  He was sentenced to two years for committing “a calculate fraud and lies” to steal $1.3M from his securities clients.

The scheme was to put $30M of client’s money into a “trust account,” but he did not tell the clients that it was earning interest.  Lawyers use interest free or IOLTA trust accounts for handling small amounts of money for clients, if the interest that would be earned is not worth the time to set up the account.  The Rules co permit the earned interest be used for public purposes, instead of simply going to the bank. But when the amounts involved make it worth the time to open an interest earning trust account, the lawyer must do that.  Weinberg put $1.3M earned interest in his pocket.  That violates lots of laws, and lawyer rules.  He got caught. The Sentencing Order included:

 [T]wo years in prison,… three years of supervised release, 1,000 hours of community service, a $297,500 restitution order and a $250,000 forfeiture.

I always wonder why if the finding is $1.3M in losses, the restitution and forfeiture together do not equal at least $1.3M – plus interest.

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Crimes are Trouble

Georgia lawyer Arjun Kapoor was accused of committing acts of domestic violence. That is a bad thing. But the allegations came through a Family Crisis Center, and Kapoor decided to find out more about the allegations. He demanded the documents held by the Center. They rejected his demands, so he made misrepresentations to the local clerk to obtain a Subpoena Duces Tecum for the evidence. The Center knew what it was doing, so it ignored the subpoena and made a report.

The Georgia Supreme Court was not pleased. He was charged by the Disciplinary authorities, and tried to work matters out. Twice rejected for a “slap on the wrist” by the hearing officer, the recommendation was for a public reprimand. The Court found acts of Misrepresentation – violation of GA Rule 8.4(a)(4)(a) [differently numbered than the Indiana RPC] and imposed discipline.


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Resigning with Pending Troubles?

Recently several lawyers have “resigned” their licenses while facing criminal charges.  One reported in IBJ on June 18, David Rees was convicted and sentenced to four years home detention, two years probation and restitution, for stealing more than $270,000 from an estate he was managing. (The story does not say what happened to the balance of the $400,000 found missing, that was under Rees’ control.)

In Jan, 2013 Rees resigned his license on what appears from the Supreme Court docket as the day disciplinary charges were filed against him.

In June 2012 Bill Conour resigned his license, a month after charges were filed against him by the Disc. Comm.

These cases come under the Admission and Discipline Rules.  A conflict appears to exist between Rule 2(L) which prohibits “withdrawing from the practice” while under accusation, and Rule 23(§17), where the provisions allow for such resignations.

Read these Admission & Discipline Rules for context:

Rule 2(l). Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal. An attorney in good standing, who is current in payment of all applicable registration fees and other financial obligations imposed by these rules, and who is not the subject of an investigation into, or a pending proceeding involving, allegations of misconduct, who desires to relinquish permanently his or her license to practice law in the State of Indiana may do so by tendering an Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal from the practice of law in this State to the Executive Secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The Executive Secretary shall promptly verify the eligibility of the attorney to resign under this section, and if eligible, forward a certification of eligibility, together with the Affidavit of Permanent Withdrawal to the Clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court, and the Clerk shall show on the roll of attorneys that the attorney’s Indiana law license has been relinquished permanently and that the lawyer is no longer considered an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Indiana.

and

Rule 23. Section 17. Resignations and Consents to Discipline on Admission of Misconduct

 (a) An attorney who is the subject of an investigation into, or a pending proceeding involving, allegations of misconduct may resign as a member of the bar of this Court, or may consent to discipline, but only by delivering an affidavit and five copies to the Supreme Court Administration Office and providing a copy to the Commission. The affidavit shall state that the respondent desires to resign or to consent to discipline and that:

 (1) The respondent’s consent is freely and voluntarily rendered; he or she is not being subjected to coercion or duress; he or she is fully aware of the implications of submitting his or her consent;

 (2) The respondent is aware that there is a presently pending investigation into, or proceeding involving, allegations that there exist grounds for his or her discipline the nature of which shall be specifically set forth;

 (3) The respondent acknowledges that the material facts so alleged are true; and

 (4) The respondent submits his or her resignation or consent because the respondent knows that if charges were predicated upon the matters under investigation, or if the proceeding were prosecuted, he or she could not successfully defend himself or herself.

 (b) Upon receipt of the required affidavit in support of resignation, this Court may enter an order approving the resignation. In the case of consent to discipline, the Commission and the respondent may file a brief regarding an appropriate sanction within thirty (30) days of delivery of the required affidavit. The Court shall then enter an order imposing a disciplinary sanction on consent.

(c) An order entered under (b) above shall be a matter of public record. However, the affidavit required under the provisions of (a) above shall not be publicly disclosed or made available for use in any other proceeding except upon order of this Court.

That provision in (c) causes some concern, since an affidavit confessing the violation of the rules ought to carry some weight in other matters, if admissible.

Also, a distinction (without much difference) may exist between “resignation” and “permanent withdrawal” as Rees and Conour are eligible to petition for reinstatement in 5 years, while those withdrawing must get in through the Bar Exam or under another provision.

It seems a lawyer who offers to withdraw the law license, and is without a pending problem, should have less trouble seeking reinstatement. Practically, Rees and Conour will never practice again.

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Epidemic of Suicides in KY

Half a dozen suicides by lawyers in Kentucky has prompted increased concern.  The Indiana Law Blog excerpted a story from the Louisville Courier Journal on the issue.

All were men, most were trial lawyers, and the average age was 53.

Indiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program–JLAP–is available to assist lawyers troubled with their practice.

I have not seen a current table or story on Indiana lawyers, but know of too many who have used a permanent solution for a temporary problem. The 2010 Legal Education Conclave focused a session on Resiliency in the Face of Stress, for law students and the practicing bar and bench.  More still needs to be done.

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Poll Question Result:  The Georgia Supreme Court rejected a public reprimand and suspended Kapoor for six months from the practice of law.

Want Fewer Troubles? See a small firm lawyer; Prenda Redux; Township Courts

I had a good week leading up to and at the Indiana Solo and Small Firm Conference June 6-8 at French Lick Indiana. Kudos to Marc Matheny (also of the National SSF Conf. Board and the ABATECH Show Board) who chaired the conference this year and next.

Indiana’s conference was its largest yet, and I chaired the new series of courses called STAFF TRACK, which added to the knowledge and skills of law firm staff members.

Why do I say if you want fewer troubles see a small firm lawyer? Last month AM LAW, a leading legal publisher came out with an article on the latest big law survey by Altman-Weil Co. on where the law and practice is headed.  Steve Harper, an author and blogger interpreted the AM LAW article here.

His topic sentences are “The Troubling Big Picture; Group Stupidity; Lateral Incompetence; Institutional Ineptitude; and, Cognitive Dissonance” finding the focus of the leaders of the big firms as wrongheaded:  When asked to identify their greatest challenges over the next 24 months, most managers cited “increasing revenue.” The rest of the list is, in order: new business, growth, profitability, management transition, cost management, and attracting talent. If you’re wondering where clients fit—other than as a source of revenue and profits in items one, two, and three—“client value” finished eighth.

He summarizes the report of the responses by 250 of the largest 800 firms, as follows:

•Managing partners know that change is coming and clients are demanding it, but firms aren’t revisiting their basic strategies or business models.

•Growth and profits finish far ahead of enhancing client value as most law firm leaders’ top concerns.

•Leaders view aggressive lateral hiring as critical to law firm growth, but when laterals don’t produce, most firms don’t do much about it.

•Succession planning is problematic because senior partners don’t want to relinquish compensation that is tied to their client billings.

•As senior leaders continue to pull up the equity partner ladder on the next generation, morale plummets and managing partners worry about the absence of midlevel talent to serve clients in the future.

Client Value comes in Eighth? (One commentator was surprised the clients made the top ten at Biglaw!)  No wonder the mood at the SSF Conference was upbeat. Our “big” siblings at the Biglaw Firms are now leaving the good clients to those of us who care.

H/T Patrick Olmstead.

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More on Prenda Law.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a federal judge is ticked-off at the Chicago law firm Prenda, that was pursuing copyright violations against folks it alleged had viewed internet pornography in violation of the copyright law.  Tying the copyright violation with the fear of exposure for that private act, lots of folks were settling the claims, and others who did not do so prior to the suit quickly settled before court notices were out.

In the earlier reports the judge said from the bench that something was not right. Well now he has unloaded on the lawyers, with this Order of the Court.  In an eleven page order he finds violations of Rule 11, (requiring lawyers to know the facts that they are alleging have some basis in fact) and acts of fraud upon the court.  He orders the firm to pay $81,000+ to the Court in 14 days to repay the John Doe defendant in the order for costs and attorney fees. The judge doubled the fees requested by the lawyers, due to the egregious acts of the Prenda firm.

The judge also reports the two lawyers in his case to the Disciplinary Committee of the State of California, plus every other state where they practice, and every court, both state and federal, where the lawyers have cases pending. He says they suffer from a moral turpitude that should not infect the bar.

Just to top things off, he sends his report to the US Attorney’s office to consider RICO charges and to the IRS for investigation of every lawyer in the law firm.

Moral of the story: Federal Judges do not play games with scoundrels.

H/T Vic Indiano

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Marion County Township Courts

More coming on this issue soon. Will the Legislature or Supreme Court do anything? I have recently had a chance to read the Small Claims Task Force Report: Report on the Marion County Small Claims Courts, authored by Court of Appeals Judges John Baker and Betty Barteau, Sr. Judge.

Some solid recommendations that went no place in the Indiana Legislature.  What will the Supreme Court do?  Will the Legislature do anything?

Is it all on WTHR 13 News to push the changes? I had a conversation on fees, ethics, and lawyer and judge discipline with Sandra Chapman this week.  It will be interesting to follow this story.

PA Judge steals Drugs?; Former VA Bar President gets Disbarred; the Indiana Oath of Attorneys

Another PA Judge goes bad?

Pennsylvania has had a run of bad luck with its judges. In 2011, two judges were sentenced for taking kickbacks for sending kids to a private juvenile prison instead of to juvenile probation. Now a judge is charged with stealing cocaine from the evidence locker on drug cases that had been closed.

Judge Paul Pozonsky resigned abruptly last year, after questions were raised about his residency. Now charges are pending for the alleged theft of drugs from his evidence locker. Pozonsky had changed the local rules for evidence in drug cases, requiring that the actual drugs be brought to court in criminal cases, and placed in evidence. After a while State Police did an inventory of the evidence closet, and found drugs missing and evidence tampered with.

His lawyer calls it “a serious matter, and he [Pozonsky] is treating it as such.” Really serious.
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Former Virginia Bar President Bills Big – Disbarred

With a billing rate of $850 per hour, former Virginia Bar President Glenn Lewis still thought he needed to pad his bill. But there is the padding of a coffee break while on the client’s clock, and then there is Lewis’s padding.

According to the Washington Post, Lewis was “once one of the Washington area’s highest-paid and most-respected divorce lawyers and a former president of the Virginia Bar Association…” See the previous post on the Icarus Rule.

Suing clients over a bill is often a mistake (one PLP defense lawyer reports that 90% of client claims for malpractice against lawyers are, in fact, cross claims filed when the lawyer first sued for unpaid fees), but when the client you sue is also a lawyer, and the suit is for $500,000 more in fees on a divorce case where the client has already paid $382,000, and the case settled during pre-trial work, that should be a concern that was considered before filing the first lawsuit. Among the charges in the suit was a claim $253,000 in interest on the past due legal fees [doing the math, $253,000 interest on $632,000 in fees, more than 1/2 of which had been paid might be a usurious interest rate].

When a smart client gets sued for fees, and the client can afford a billing expert, the lawyer’s time records will get reviewed, very carefully. Lewis’s records could not stand up to a serious challenge, although he did stand by the accounting offered to the court. When the records started showing more than 30 hours a day billed by Lewis, the situation got sticky for him. He blamed “block billing” but that is no excuse, the Virginia Disciplinary Commission decided. The decision is appealable to the VA Supreme Court.

Lewis settled the civil case with the lawyer-client. He had asked for $500K from the client, but Lewis paid out $102K to the client. Then the trouble got worse for Lewis. Two more former clients sued, they claimed that they had paid, but Lewis did not do the work, and refused to refund retainers. Once things started falling in, they fell hard, these two got default judgments and then more claims came in.

Bar Discipline Commissions understand that working with clients can be tough, but taking clients’ money and doing no work, that is just not acceptable. It is hard to understand why the lawyers violate their Oath of Attorneys.

 

Oath of Attorneys

FYI – this is Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 22.

Upon being admitted to practice law in the state of Indiana, each applicant shall take and subscribe to the following oath or affirmation:

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that: I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana; I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers; I will not counsel or maintain any action, proceeding, or defense which shall appear to me to be unjust, but this obligation shall not prevent me from defending a person charged with crime in any case; I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me, such means only as are consistent with truth, and never seek to mislead the court or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law; I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client at every peril to myself; I will abstain from offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged; I will not encourage either the commencement or the continuance of any action or proceeding from any motive of passion or interest; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless, the oppressed or those who cannot afford adequate legal assistance; so help me God.”

The Indiana Bar Fellows dinner will join in reciting the Oath of Attorneys this Friday at the annual Fellows Dinner, this time in Chicago.  If you are interested in becoming a Fellow of the Indiana Bar Foundation, call the IBF office.

2nd try: Law & Sex, trouble.

Indy BIGLAW guy gets it

Arthur J. Usher IV was a Bose partner when his troubles started, a Kreig DeVault partner when everything blew up, now he is out of BIGLAW, and out of the profession for a while.

In what sounds like the plot line of a cheap romance novel, Usher got focused on a woman at Bose, and went overboard in a really weird way. If you have the time you have to read the story here. Long story short, he got infatuated, rebuffed and went ballistic, trying to destroy “Jane Doe” and her career. He recruited his paralegal to help him further the campaign. He used fictitious emails to spread his bizarre tale, trying to cost Doe her career at Bose, and elsewhere.

His actions started in 2008, the opinion was issued May 17, 2013. I can only imagine the nearly 5 years of trouble that Jane Doe has put up with waiting on a resolution. There was a civil lawsuit, and it appears to have settled on the courthouse steps with “a payment of an undisclosed amount to [Doe]”. The Supreme Court did not allow that to take the place of the disciplinary process.

The Court found violations of Rules 3.3(a)(1) Candor to tribunal, false statements, 8.1(a) False statement Bar application or Disciplinary Process, 8.1(b) failure to disclose facts to correct, 8.4(a, b, c, & d) Misconduct of various stripes. The Court found for him, agreeing with the Hearing Officer, that his problem was with Jane Doe, and not with all women, which would have been a violation of 8.4(g)

The disciplinary ruling: For Respondent’s professional misconduct, the Court suspends Respondent from the practice of law in this state for a period of not less than three years, without automatic reinstatement, beginning June 28, 2013.

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A Chicago law firm, Prenda Law Inc., found a spot as innovative lawyers or scoundrels. A California federal judge decided that scoundrels fit, better than lawyers. A fight is going on. On one side is a self-professed millionaire copyright lawyer and his team, who have sued over 20,000 for illegally downloading pornography, the other a judge who says it is a scam and shakedown effort.

Now the judge has reported the team to disciplinary groups, and to the federal prosecutors for RICO violations. He says the team identifies alleged copyright infringers by IP addresses, it then alleges that the download of porn occurred, in a demand letter that requests an amount “just below the cost of a bare-bones defense” to the suit, if the alleged infringer does not settle. Public embarrassment to a person’s reputation forces settlement, whether there was a violation or not. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed when payment did not come. These lawsuits are unraveling. At a recent hearing before the trial judge, the plaintiffs’ lawyers from Prenda took the Fifth Amendment, to avoid subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution. Not a good step in any case.

The lawyers who started representing Prenda have bailed out of the case, the appellate court is not telling the district judge to back off, One lawyer is alleged to have committed identity theft in getting a named party for the suits filed. Just a mess, as reported in AM LAW’s daily digest and Forbes.

h/t Patrick Olmstead.

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Two things: 1) PWP FB page: If you haven’t seen the recent FB page for the law firm Peterson Waggoner & Perkins, LLP you have missed the Run in a Dress for MS photo. Having fun, raising funds, and supporting family. https://www.facebook.com/PetersonWaggonerPerkinsLLP

2) Glitch: In starting this blog entry, the little finger on my right hand missed the Shift Key, hitting the Return Key. Somehow that published part of the title to the blog entry for this week. My apologies for filling in your mailbox/reader.

Thanks for reading.

Lawyers = Icarus?; Hubris?; Conoured

An Icarus moment?

Paul Bergerin, a once prominent NJ lawyer, former state and federal prosecutor and recently a criminal defense lawyer was convicted by a jury on 23 counts, including Conspiracy to Murder – a witness, and Racketeering, in the operation of his law firm. He has been sitting in jail since 2009 on the charges, had one trial declared a mistrial, and faces life in prison now.

When the lede starts “once prominent attorney” you know the Icarus paradox is involved.

H/T Tim Kalamaros

Being the Investigator gets you Suspended

David Schalk made a serious mistake, he forgot his role as a lawyer.  Lawyers are not investigators, and should not make themselves witnesses, or more importantly criminal defendants. One sage said “Whatever you do, make sure the client goes to jail, and you go to lunch.”

Schalk had a client charged with possession of Meth. He apparently did not think that the confidential informant was legitimate, and was selling drugs himself.  So Schalk set up a drug buy by two of his criminal defendant’s friends, plus a juvenile. Schalk provided the funds and a recorder, and told the agents that “it is all legit.”

After the “agents” successfully bought some drugs they smoked some, kept some of Schalk’s money, and gave him a folded newspaper that they said contained the drugs.   Schalk tried to get law enforcement to make arrests, and so they arrested the lawyer Schalk. for Conspiracy to Possess Marijuana, and Attempt to Possess.  That was not his plan.

The court found five facts in aggravation, nothing in mitigation.  The opinion discusses his lack of insight into the misconduct and his attacks on the officers for being vindictive as evidence that Schalk needing disciplined.  So it did the deed.  Schalk got nine months without automatic reinstatement. I will explain the importance of “automatic reinstatement” in a later post.

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Conour

Recent word is that Bill and Jennifer Conour’s names still grace the atrium at the McKinney Law School.  According to the Indiana Lawyer story of Sept. 12, 2012 the law enforcement authorities were actively investigating the matter in December 2011.  That story’s lede is “William Conour, until recently, was one of Indiana’s most respected and powerful personal injury attorneys,…” (see reference above).

I think it is time for Indiana University to figure out how to get those names off the atrium wall.  Whatever it takes.  IU’s new general counsel will surely do a better job to include contract terms that fit with Herman B Wells’ admonition about naming things until five years after the person’s death, or at least have a forfeiture clause if necessary.  Coaches contracts should have morals/NCAA clauses as well.  Good luck Jackie.

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.

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.

Billing troubles abound

Inflating the fees

BigLaw firm gets caught in mocking a client about the fees the firm is charging, and get sued. DLA Piper, the world’s largest law firm was representing a client, Mr. Victor, in a potential bankruptcy of one of his companies.  The fees started and never quit.  Victor asked about the size of the bills, and  the number of new lawyers working on the case, the lead lawyers working the case started mocking him. “I hear we are 200k over our estimate – that’s Team DLA Piper” and “churn that bill, baby” emails made their way around the office.

Once DLA Piper filed suit for $675,000 in past due fees, Victor counter-sued for the “sweeping practice of overbilling.”  He got the emails described in his discovery request, along with 250,000 pages of other stuff created in the case. Victor amended his complaint, added fraud and punitive damages request of $22.5M.

Don’t mock your clients, or overbill. And be careful even joking about billing in an email or other discoverable method.
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Losing Half the Billing on a Big Case

The plaintiffs lawyers had a good deal, they thought.  12 law firms came together to file a class action suit against LivingSocial, a daily deal online marketing group.  The issue was expired deals, a customer buys a deal, pays for it and the deal expires before it is used. The question is who gets the money?

46 lawyers worked on the case, and the lawyers and their paralegals racked up over 4,000 hours.  The fee request was $3M.  That is only $750 per hour across the board.  LivingSocial did not object, but Federal Judge Ellen Huvelle in DC did the math, asked a bunch of questions and wrote a 39 page opinion that decided that the lawyers should not get that much money, and criticized lots of what they did and did not do.

Judgge Huvelle said they would have to make due with only $1.35M and leave the other $2.65M in the pot for the class members.

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How much is a name worth?

For Stan Chesley, he thought his name as a “the godfather of the modern class-action lawsuit” ought to get  him something extra.  His fee was only $20M on a $200M case. The phen-fen cases in KY are now notorious, and Chesley’s matter is not the worst.  He got disbarred in KY (his home is Ohio, and what they do is yet to be determined) for an unreasonable fee in the case.

The Court said “his professed ignorance and lack of responsibility for any aspect of the litigation except showing up…” argued against a large fee. Also, the clients signed up for a 1/3 contingency, but the lawyers had charged 49%.  Chesley was to get about $14M if he deserved any fee, but he still charged $20M.

Two lawyers in the case have gone to prison for swindling their clients out of $94M of the settlement funds. Their sentences – 20-25 years.

H/T John Conlon