Report Your Convictions, Indiana Lawyers; Scammed; School Board Lawyers Indicted over Free Lunch?;

Those other Rules also Count to the Ind. Supreme Court

There are several (18) sets of rules that lawyers need to know about as a part of your practice, and sometimes we forget them. One that bit a lawyer recently was the rule on reporting our convictions.  No, not our deeply held principles, but the convictions we get for violating the law. The Rule is A&D Rule 23 §11.1 (a)

(2)    An attorney licensed to practice law in the state of Indiana who is found guilty of a crime in any state or of a crime under the laws of the United States shall, within ten (10) days after such finding of guilt, transmit a certified copy of the finding of guilt to the Executive Secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

The 18 sets of Rules on the Court’s website can be found here.

Gary Selig, of Indianapolis, was convicted in 2003 of OVWI, but did not report it to the Disciplinary Commission. In 2013 he was again convicted, and started treatment. This time the conviction was reported, apparently by the judge (see below) His matter went to the Commission, and was docketed with the Supreme Court on two charges: Committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice (RPC Rule 8.4(b) and Failure to Report the 2003 conviction (A&D Rule 23 §11.1(a)(2)).

The penalty: 30 days suspension from the practice of law, stayed for a six months probationary period with terms to help with the alcohol issues in his life, and to remain under JLAP supervision.  Good luck.

While it is probably painful to report a criminal conviction, it will be an aggravation factor if you don’t. Judges:  if a lawyer is convicted in your court, you also have a duty under 11.1(a)(1) to report that conviction within ten days.  Don’t overlook that duty.

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When the money is coming from Nigeria – Be careful

At least he did not fall for an email from Nigeria, but maybe what he did was worse.  Above the Law has the snarky version of the tale of the Iowa lawyer who not only fell for the $18.8M scam, but convinced several clients to invest in the up front payment of $177,660 to get that big check. He did it for the client who got him into this mess, (a criminal defendant with a pending case) and for the 10% finder’s fee that Robert Allen Wright Jr. (lawyer son of a prominent Iowa lawyer) was expecting out of the deal.

He even tried to get the funds from the Bank of Nigeria and the President of Nigeria (Nigeria is ruled by an Edo – the title used by the current “ruler” of Nigeria.)

Among the charges that were filed was a charge of Fraud on Clients, but it was dropped by the Disciplinary Board, because the evidence showed that Wright did not know there were no funds, and that he still is delusional about the prospect of obtaining the Nigerian cash, any day. Stupid is as stupid does…

He was suspended for a year from the practice. No word on restitution to the clients who were duped, and no requirement was stated for IQ or EQ testing before reinstatement.  Sounds like it might be a good idea.

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Got to Quit Reading NJ Law Journal
School board lawyers in NJ get indicted on Free Lunch scam for Board Members.

School Board member reports to the board lawyers that his income statement was “misstated” by his wife and he wanted to correct it “so I don’t end up like” another board member who was under investigation for getting free lunches when her kids were not eligible, due to her income.

The lawyers solved the problem for the board member, by conspiring to hide evidence, and telling staff to remove lunch applications from files, and doctor computer records, all to cover up for the various board members’ misdeeds.  Oops.   It was reported that:

A state grand jury in Trenton charged Capece and Nelson [the lawyers] with second-degree conspiracy and official misconduct, third-degree tampering with public records and physical evidence, and fourth-degree hindering prosecution.

If convicted, they would spend a minimum of five years in jail without parole and could pay fines of $150,000.

(emphasis added)

And you thought we school board lawyers lived quiet lives.

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FYI, Last Friday, I presented a three-hour CLE (one hour ethics) seminar on Representing and Working with a Not for Profit Entity.  A good session sponsored by the Northern Indiana Community Foundation (Fulton, Miami and Starke Counties), the Marshall County Community Foundation and the Pulaski County Community Foundation. If you are interested, contact me at ted@peterson-waggoner.com

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Will Lawyers get in trouble blowing smoke?; Be careful what you share with an Inmate; 3-2 vote on an Agreed Discipline – what does that mean?

Good to see a Bar Association help out the member lawyers on difficult ethics issues. The King Co. Bar Assoc. in Washington State has asked for guidance from the State Supreme Court on how to handle a conflict in the drug laws. Marijuana use will soon be legal under WA state law, but the federal law has not changed. So is it unethical for a state licensed attorney to use dope? Is it unethical to advise companies on how to comply with the state law on selling dope?

There are other issues where state law and federal law are at odds in various states. Voting rights issues come up, gun possession issues, campaign finance, and abortion laws.  Are lawyers at risk for following state laws, and not federal laws?  Will drug laws be different?

Wait and see.

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When will lawyers learn to be careful when visiting inmates?

Lake County lawyer Carl Jones should have followed the rules about sharing information with a jailed client.  He could have sent the inmate’s girlfriend’s letter through the mail, but it would probably be read, and her promise to lie for the inmate at trial would have been found.

More importantly, he could have told the Disciplinary Commission the truth about the matter when first asked.  When he was later testifying he told a different story, and for that he got a suspension for six months, without automatic reinstatement.

Lawyers interactions with inmates are constitutionally protected, up to a point. The inmate is entitled to private conferences so that a legitimate defense can be presented to the court.  But because we have special privileges, we must be extra careful to follow the rules.  Jones is the second lawyer this year to get disciplined for an improper interaction with a prisoner-client.  Earlier this year this blog reported this story.A Google search found: “About 66,000 results (0.31 seconds)”  to that lawyer’s name – most for this event.

Be careful out there, or more especially, when you are visiting someone in there!

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Value of a Conditional Agreement for Discipline

Plea bargains are a way of life for criminal defense lawyers, and negotiated settlements are the rule for civil litigators, it makes sense to try to work out a disciplinary matter as well.  At least today, that is.

In the Matter of Noah Holcomb, Jr. is a case on point.  Holcomb’s opinion shows that he violated several pretty important rules, 1.15 (3 subsections as different violations) on safekeeping of client funds, commingling client and attorney funds; 8.4 fraudulent conduct (hiding cash from the IRS); 1.5 setting and honoring fee agreements, not charging unreasonable fees, 8.4 conversion, and four different A&D Rules on handling trust accounts.  In addition he neglected client files (Rule 1.3).

By the time the matter got to the Supreme Court he still had not made restitution, but — he had cooperated with the Disc. Comm.

The Court starts its discussion with the following:  “This Court has disbarred attorneys who committed the type of misconduct to which Respondent has admitted.”  The important part is next: “The discipline the Court would impose might have been more severe than proposed by the parties had this matter been submitted without the Commission’s agreement.”

Now the agreement did not result in a slap on the wrist – Holcomb got a three-year suspension, without automatic reinstatement – and the  strong language of warning that reinstatement could be hard to come by:

We note, however, that regardless of the date on which Respondent is eligible to petition for reinstatement, reinstatement is discretionary and requires clear and convincing evidence of the attorney’s remorse, rehabilitation, and fitness to practice law. See Admis. Disc. R. 23(4)(b). Moreover, the parties agree that restitution should be a condition for Respondent’s reinstatement. 

The vote to approve the outcome was an unusual 3-2 with Justices David and Rush dissenting with the comment: “believing the Respondent should be disbarred.”

It sounds unlikely that Holcomb will return to the practice, but he might. After reading the opinion, you might wonder, as I do, if we want him back in the profession.

Did the Commission go too light on Holcomb in order to get an agreement, and if so, why? Apparently three justices accepted the reason (assuming it was explained somewhere), although they did not include the reason in their rationale.  Will they accept that next time?  Is this opinion a shot across the Commission’s bow?

Or is it a shot across the bow of those attorneys who stand their ground?

Hiding Things Brings Trouble: Assets, Evidence and a Court Order.

Hiding Assets

The case started for Washington State lawyer, Thomas McGrath when his wife, a chiropractor, started a fight with her ex-employee.  Forbes reports on his bad actions: first to represent his wife in a case where she lost a judgment of $500,000; and then to do improper asset protection in violation of the RPC.

Shifting assets when the case is going badly is a time honored tactic, but shifting a spouse’s asset through the office trust account in violation of Rule 1.15 is still a forbidden mixture of personal assets with clients’ assets.

Filing bankruptcy is not generally improper, but falsifying the Bankruptcy Petition is a federal felony and an ethical violation.

As Jay Atkisson, the Forbes columnist explains: “This case has nothing to do with legitimate asset protection planning, and everything to do with plain old fraud on creditors.”

What do you think the Washington State Supreme Court did to the husband lawyer, just trying to help his wife?

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Hiding Evidence on Facebook:

Matthew Murray was slow to advise his client about the eternal nature of electronic evidence. Murray’s client lost his wife and filed a wrongful death case.  Among the damages claimed was loss of love, affection and companionship.  After being asked to produce “screenshots” from his client’s Facebook account, Murray told his paralegal to make sure the account had been “cleaned up. ” The plaintiff-client’s photos disappeared from his Facebook wall, but the defense counsel already had 16 of them, including the one that showed him wearing a T-shirt that said “I ♥ hot moms” while holding a beer, soon after the wife’s death.  Since the suit was for the losses he suffered due to the wrongful death of the plaintiff’s wife as caused by the defendant, the photo was thought to be material to damages.

First, the trial court ordered the payment of defendant’s attorney fees against Murray and his client in the amount of $722,000 and slashed the jury’s $8.5M verdict. The VA Supreme Court reinstated the verdict, but allowed the attorney fees order to stand.

It also found Murray violated the RPC and entered a sanction: What would you have ordered?

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Hiding the Court Order?

A busy time for the Washington State Disciplinary Board.
And Tom Kamb was a busy lawyer. He had a criminal law practice, mostly DUI defense work. On the day of the problem, he had 20 case hearings set in the morning.  He got a plea on one case, which was submitted, and approved by the court.  He forgot to get the breath test suppressed, which appears to be a normal event, since suppression of the breath test protects the client’s driver’s license.

Kamb later had a hearing with the Dept. of Licensing’s ALJ about his client’s driver’s license, Kamb reported that he had gotten the breath test suppressed in the criminal charge.  Now he had to find a way to prove that.  Bad idea.  He asked for the closed file from the clerk, and penciled a note about the test being suppressed on the signed order. The now suspicious clerk refused to provide him with a certified copy of the newly forged order, and sent him to the prosecutor.  The prosecutor agreed to a retroactive suppression, not knowing that Kamb had lied to the DOL’s ALJ, and forged the court’s order.  When Kamb returned with the note from the prosecutor, the clerk sent him to the presiding judge who was not pleased.

The judge files disciplinary charges, and after the investigation by bar counsel, there was a finding of Kamb’s guilt on three counts:

Count 1 charge[d] Kamb with misrepresenting the existence of an order suppressing his client’s breath test to the hearing officer in violation of RPC
3.3(a)(1). Count 2 charge[d] Kamb with changing Judge Svaren’s order in violation of RPC 8.4(b ), 8.4( c), and 8.4( d). Count 3 charge[d] Kamb with violating RPC 1.3 which  requires a lawyer to act diligently and promptly, by failing to discuss suppression of the breath test with [prosecutor] Johnson before the DOL hearing.
Kamb challenged the Hearing Officer’s findings. The court found his version of facts lacked credibility.  The transcript of the ALJ’s hearing proved the timeline and his misstatement of facts about the existence of a court order that helped his client.
What did the WA Supreme Court do in this case?

Poll Results:

1. Washington Supreme Court disbarred the lawyer after 40+ years of practice – citing the filing of false filings and claims, and lack of remorse.

2. Murray got a five-year suspension from the practice of law.

3. The opinion cites as authority: “The American Bar Association’s Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (1991 & Supp. 1992)” as the guide for lawyer discipline in Washington State.   Kamb got disbarred.

Trust Advice; Old Joke – Who goes to jail at the end of the day?; Cameras – get you canned – NSFW

Trust Advice: Have good witnesses

Out of state cases this week.  A prominent NY lawyer got a reprimand when his trust account checks bounced. Usually a more serious matter, the highly regarded lawyer got reprimanded instead of suspended. He pled ignorance, and stupidity. The NY Appellate Div. found the abuse was “non-venal” and the result of the aforementioned ignorance and stupidity.  Neal H. Rosenberg  was lucky enough to have great witnesses:

A former Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, and a Justice of the Supreme Court, both testified that they had retained respondent to represent them and their respective children. Both Justices stated that respondent is known to be trustworthy, honest and a tremendously fine attorney, possessing great skill, integrity, and character. 

Have good friends, do non-venal things, and do no harm to clients, you might avoid the more serious punishment that others get.

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Bribing a Witness?

I repeat an old joke I first heard in law school, from the late Pat Baude: “At the end of the day, a lawyer’s first duty is to make sure that only the client goes to jail.”

Cranston Rhode Island’s Gerard Donley, a well-known criminal defense lawyer based out of Providence, today was found guilty of obstruction of justice, bribery and conspiracy to bribe a witness…

reports the Cranston Patch.  It promptly resulted in an Interim Suspension of Donley’s license to practice law.

The conviction was June 13, the Order of Suspension came out Aug. 6.

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NSFW – Lawyer gets himself canned

In case you live in a virtual cave, you may not know that the initials NSFW means Not Safe For Work, a euphemism for there might be something in this link that your office spam blocker will reject, or your staff will be surprised to hear coming from your computer.  It also is probably not safe for nearby children.

Lawyers are often called on to sit through boring, even mundane public hearings.  If you represent a board that holds public meetings, there is a certain “professional look” you adopt.  Something between interested and bored, engaged but not transcribing the comments.

Here Long Island NY lawyer Chris Kirby offers the wrong look.  He smirks.  And when called out about it during the meeting, it gets worse. The hearing appears to on be a cable channel broadcast.  But the cell phone camera goes on in the parking lot.  If inappropriate language offends, I suggest you ignore the link.

By the way, the lawyer and his firm lose the client school board.

h/t Gary Welsh and Advance Indiana blog.

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.

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.

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.