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OBC/BBO News Archive

January 26, 2017

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Ethics-Related Decisions

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Bar Discipline Cases

  • Full Court Disbars Attorney Based, In Part, On Misconduct In Dealings With Other Members Of The Bar
  • In In Matter of Haese, 468 Mass. 1002 (2014), the full bench of the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a decision of the single justice disbarring the respondent for converting client funds in two separate matters. Notwithstanding that the respondent made prompt restitution in both instances, the full bench agreed that disbarment, and not indefinite suspension, was the appropriate sanction because the respondent had “engaged in more and wider misconduct” in his dealings with other members of the bar, adversely reflecting on his fitness to practice law.

    In 2001 and 2004, clients in two different matters retained the respondent and paid him a retainer. In both instances, the respondent converted the retainers before they were earned. After the cases settled, he converted the clients’ settlement money for his own use. The respondent subsequently paid the clients the amounts due them but, with respect to the first matter, only after misrepresenting to the clients that the delay in their payment resulted from accounting issues rather than misuse.

    Around the same time, the respondent associated with other attorneys in unrelated matters. In one case, the respondent filed suit on behalf of himself and two other law firms who were owed legal fees. After recovering $75,000, the respondent paid one firm its share but failed to pay the other firm the amount to which it was entitled. Instead, the respondent intentionally misappropriated that firm’s funds to his own use.

    In a second matter, the family of a minor child injured by a defective product retained the respondent to bring suit against a manufacturer and retailer. The respondent associated with a North Carolina attorney to assist him in the trial and agreed to pay that attorney thirty-five percent of the respondent’s fee. The respondent did not disclose to the attorney that he had already pledged all of his legal fees in that case to a commercial lender as collateral for a $250,000 loan. As the case progressed, the respondent asked the North Carolina attorney to also loan the respondent money, promising to pay the attorney from the legal fees earned in the child’s case. Relying on the respondent’s promise, the North Carolina attorney loaned the respondent a total of $81,000. When the child’s case settled, the respondent failed to notify either the North Carolina attorney or the commercial lender of his receipt of the settlement funds. Instead, the respondent indorsed the attorney’s name on the settlement check without authorization and deposited it in his trust account. The respondent then withdrew and used for his own purposes the funds that he owed to the North Carolina attorney and the commercial lender.

    Where an attorney intends to deprive, or actually does deprive, a client of funds, the standard discipline is indefinite suspension or disbarment. Where restitution is made, an indefinite suspension rather than disbarment is typically the sanction. In this instance, the respondent made prompt restitution to his clients whose funds he had converted. Here, however, because “Both clients and other attorneys must be able to rely on the personal integrity of members of our bar”, the full court determined that the respondent’s conversion of client funds, when taken together with his intentional, dishonest conduct toward other members of the bar, warranted his disbarment.


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