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.

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Fraud is trouble; Theft from Child; Research Issues; Epic Trust Fund Breach

FRAUD LEADS TO TROUBLE
Indianapolis lawyer Paul J. Page has agreed to plead guilty for his scheme to defraud a bank. Hard to tell whether this is a business deal gone bad (which even by a lawyer is not a big concern of this blog) or a bad thing done in his role as a lawyer.

More interesting is all that is written about his friend and colleague, former Indy Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.  Too early to tell if Page’s fraud leads to Brizzi trouble, but I smell smoke in the air.

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ELKHART LAWYER STEALS FROM CHILD’S FUND

Juan Garcia Jr., an Elkhart In. lawyer has pleaded guilty to stealing the funds of a child, whose funds from a personal injury settlement were placed in trust with Garcia by the child’s guardian. When the guardian noticed some discrepancies, she met with Garcia who tried to bribe her to remain silent. The bribe money also came from the child’s funds. The guardian took the bribe money to the police, and the charges followed.

One interesting aspect is to read the subscribers’ comments to the news story on this case from the Elkhart Truth.

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UPDATE YOUR RESEARCH

The lesson from the Thul case out of ND IL federal court is to update your research.  Biglaw firm Skadden Arps lawyers filed Motion to Dismiss (as usual), but did not cite the recent (2012) 7th Cir. case on the basis for their motion. Trial judge went ballistic.  Their action he said “likely amounted to conduct sanctionable under FRCP 11(b)(2) and 28 USC 1927.”  The judge has set a hearing for Jan 17, but by today, Jan. 10,  all three lawyers from Skadden shall “show cause in writing … why they should not be sanctioned” in any of four ways set out in the opinion, and must “appear in person” for what sounds like a slap down by the judge.  Ouch.

Just a reminder that the best daily blog for keeping up with legal issues in Indiana is still the Indiana Law Blog, written by Marcia Oddi.  I owe her my thanks for many of the cases I can give you a bit different look at.

I check ILB regularly, and so should you.

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BUYING TRUST ACCOUNT TROUBLES?
A trust account is a serious matter. Written about before here, it is not a personal checking account, not a place for your funds, not a line of credit for your office and not something to be taken lightly. You never want the Supreme Court to call your handling of your trust account an “ethical failure of epic proportions” as the Wisconsin court did for Joe Weigel.

The now former lawyer found out the hard way. It started with a seemingly innocent act. Weigel worked for a lawyer in Wisconsin, and eventually bought his practice (permitted under IN RPC 1.17) in 1999. While working there he “knew of a deficit in the trust account” but did not research that until after he and his new partners bought Alvin Eisenberg out.  He said he thought the problem was only $200-250 thousand. In reality, the deficit was near a million dollars. But he had bought the practice anyway.

He did not report Eisenberg to the WI Disciplinary Commission at the time that he worked there or when he bought the practice. When asked, Weigel responded, “I thought of it but just made a moral decision not to do that.”

Not the kind of “moral decisions” that lawyers should make. For 13 years Weigel juggled the books, borrowing from one client to pay another, or holding the funds due a third-party to pay someone in a different case. Finally his luck ran out, he got caught and now is out of the profession.

If you have a trust account problem, fix it immediately. This is a place where self-reporting with counsel at your side should be considered.

Do Not Bribe a Judge, Ignore the Disciplinary Commission, or Create a Conflict with your Clients

Even Attempting to Bribe a Judge is not Good Conduct

An attempt to bribe a judge is not a good thing for a lawyer to try to do, hiding it and then getting caught makes for the basis for a Slap-down by the subsequent judge.

When the investigating judge uses 123 pages to describe, in part, the evidence of the bribe attempt by the Eaton Corp.’s company lawyer Mark McGuire, it is the beginning of a bad time.  You can read the article here and see the links it has to the ruling.  Bad days start with these kinds of rulings. It will likely get much worse in the coming days for McGuire.

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Cooperate and Respond when you get the Certified Letter

Among the most important days in a lawyer’s life is the receipt of a certified letter from the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s Executive Director.  Not a pleasant day, but an important one.  This letter means that someone has filed a complaint that you broke the Rules of Professional Conduct and your license is now at risk.  It happened to James Nafe, twice, and he got in trouble for not responding either time. In March 2012, and again in April he was Suspended from the Practice of Law for Noncooperation.

Lawyers must take the disciplinary process seriously, and if they don’t the Disciplinary Commission will ask the Supreme Court to suspend their license to practice. There are few other actions that can be taken at that time.  Nafe got suspended for a complaint that has not yet been made public, so we would not know that there are complaints against him (yet) if he had contacted the Commission. At that time he is to respond with his version of the events, or better yet, hired an experienced lawyer to walk with him through the process.

The suspensions finally got his attention, since on May 15, 2012 the Supreme Court terminated the Noncooperation Suspension by a published Order here for the first case, and here for the second case. Don’t get yourself in a box like this. Even lawyers need lawyers sometimes.

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Who is the Client?

When two people come to see you about a problem the first question must be, can I represent both people as clients? Lawyers like to help people — we want to solve our clients’ problems, but inadequate analysis of the potential clients’ needs can cause real trouble.  Todd Wallsmith tried to help two brothers whose father had disinherited them. After a while the brothers disagreed on case tactics, then case substance, and rather than obtain separate counsel for one of the brothers, he tried to handle both their claims, which diverged even more. The lawyer finally agreed with the other side on an issue, with one of the client’s consents, but without the other’s. As their agent, he had the power to consent, but not the authority for the one. The case blew up between the lawyer and the one client.

The lawyer and Commission agreed to a disposition of the complaint which was submitted to the Supreme Court. It found that there were four Rule violations, and as a penalty it suspended the lawyer’s license to practice law for 180 days, then withheld the full suspension in favor of 45 days suspension and 24 months of probation. A good result due to the circumstances. Also a good lesson for lawyers across the country.

Avoiding conflicts in the interests of each of your clients — when there are multiple clients — is not easy. Clients do not like to be told that you cannot take care of all of them, but sometimes you can’t. In some cases in some states multiple client representation is forbidden, in other cases it is merely a minefield.