Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyer Disciplined for Leaving CLE Seminar Early

cautionYou probably know that misappropriating client funds will get you disbarred, but did you also know you can lose your license just as easily by not taking mandatory CLE classes?

Or that skipping out early on a CLE seminar could result in Bar discipline as well?

The State Bar Grievance Committee has considered more than 500 cases since July. The result: dozens of disbarments, suspensions, censures and reprimands.

Here is a summary of State Bar disciplinary actions in the past six months:

Disbarments

  • A Raleigh lawyer who had been administratively suspended in 2010 for not attending mandatory CLE was disbarred for continuing to practice law during his suspension.
  • A Wilmington lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating and “grossly mishandling” trust funds, not paying taxes and abandoning her law practice.
  • A Raleigh lawyer was disbarred for using $16,000 in settlement funds for his own benefit.
  • A Charlotte lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating funds held in trust for payment of taxes in two real estate closings.
  • A Pinehurst lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating more than $400,000 in trust funds and engaging in fraudulent bank transactions
  • A Fayetteville lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating at least $500,000 in trust funds and failure to file and pay federal and state income and withholding taxes.
  • A Raeford lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating trust funds, neglecting numerous cases, not responding to the State Bar and knowingly making false representations to the Bar.
  • A Charlotte lawyer was disbarred for misappropriating client funds for his personal use, neglect of clients’ cases, failure to communicate with clients and failure to maintain adequate trust account records.

Suspensions: Active and Stayed

  • A Goldsboro attorney deposited into his trust account a fraudulent check received as part of an apparent scam. Counsel instructed the bank to wire funds to the source of the fraudulent check, thereby disbursing funds out of his trust account against provisionally credited funds from an instrument that he could not have “reasonably believed was certain to be honored” and that was in an amount in excess of what his assets or credit could fund if it was dishonored. He also did not file a bank directive, did not promptly disburse his earned fees from the trust account, did not maintain an accurate ledger and did not reconcile his trust account. Suspension: two years, stayed for two years upon compliance with numerous conditions.
  • A Raleigh attorney did not communicate with a client, was not diligent, did not reconcile her trust account and did not properly maintain and disburse client funds. Suspension: three years; after serving one year, she may petition for a stay.
  • A Fuquay-Varina attorney did not communicate with a client, was not diligent, engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, did not refund unearned fees, did not reconcile his trust account, did not deposit entrusted funds into his trust account, commingled his funds with entrusted funds, did not properly maintain and disburse client funds and did not supervise a non-attorney assistant. Suspension: three years; after serving six months, he may petition for a stay.
  • A Mocksville attorney mishandled entrusted funds, did not provide written accountings of entrusted funds and did not maintain proper trust account records. Suspension: two years, stayed for three years upon compliance with numerous conditions.
  • An Elizabeth City attorney sent obscene photographs via text message to three domestic clients, had sexual relations with one client, and wrote off one client’s bills without authorization from his law firm employer. He also made multiple false statements to the State Bar. Suspension: five years.
  • A Wilmington attorney charged and collected an excessive amount for expenses and mismanaged his trust account. Suspension: three years; after serving one year he may apply for a stay.
  • A Charlotte attorney had sex with a client and continued to be involved in the representation of the client. Suspension: two years, stayed for two years upon compliance with numerous conditions.
  • A former Shallotte district attorney approved numerous false travel reimbursement claims for an ADA and pled guilty to a misdemeanor. Suspension: four years; after two years he may apply for a stay.
  • A Greensboro attorney engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by representing her nephew in an Alabama personal injury case when she was not licensed in that state. She also made misrepresentations to the State Bar. Suspension: five years, to run concurrently with a prior suspension.
  • A Wallace attorney neglected numerous clients and did not respond to notices from the clerk of court to file estate accountings. Suspension: three years; after nine months she may apply for a stay.
  • An Asheville attorney pled guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice after violating the state’s campaign finance/contribution laws. Suspension: three years; after one year she may apply for a stay.

Censures

  • A Cary attorney was censured for improperly disbursing funds in real estate transactions. He issued commission checks to real estate agents in violation of the Good Funds Settlement Act (N.C.G.S. § 45A-4 and Rule 1.15-2(a) and (m) of the Rules of Professional Conduct). He also disbursed funds for closings before all funds required for those closings were deposited into his trust account.
  • An attorney in Winchester, Kentucky was censured for neglect of a client’s patent application, did not communicate with his client and misrepresented the status of the patent application to his client. He also did not cooperate with the Grievance Committee.
  • A Hillsborough attorney failed to attend a deposition, did not communicate with his client, did not comply with discovery obligations, did not make proper service on an opposing party and made false statements to his client.
  • A Durham lawyer engaged in unprofessional behavior and willfully failed to comply with Rule 12 of the General Rules of Practice for Superior and District Courts.

Reprimands

  • A Raleigh attorney failed to supervise a non-lawyer assistant who kept the trust account. This failure led to a ledger error and over-disbursement.
  • A New Bern attorney did not diligently handle administration and tax issues for the estate of her client’s brother. She also lacked competence to handle the tax issues and did not communicate with her client.
  • A Winston-Salem lawyer made false entries in document review and timekeeping software to exaggerate her billable hours.
  • A Raleigh lawyer sent out direct solicitation letters that contained false and misleading statements, promised results that could not be guaranteed and compared his services to other lawyers.
  • A Clemmons lawyer acted as “Of Counsel” to a foreign law firm and facilitated the firm’s unauthorized practice of law.
  • A Raleigh lawyer did not timely comply with bankruptcy court orders, failed to appear at hearings regarding his noncompliance and refused to turn over funds that belonged to the bankruptcy estate. He also committed numerous trust account violations.
  • A Charlotte attorney did not keep his client informed about the status of the case. He also sued the client for unpaid fees and improperly conditioned the settlement of that suit upon the client’s withdrawal of a Bar grievance.
  • A Raleigh attorney made a false statement of material fact in a bankruptcy court proceeding.
  • A Greensboro attorney did not file a notice of appeal when he knew his client wanted to appeal. He also provided ineffective counsel.
  • A Raleigh attorney signed verifications of attendance at separate CLE programs claiming full credit for attendance when he had not attended all of the course hours and was not entitled to the full credit hours.
  • A Creston attorney filed an affidavit that contained an assertion refuted by documents in his possession and the court file. In the same case, after being warned by the court, he submitted another inaccurate affidavit.
  • A Charlotte attorney did not file a prehearing statement in a contested case.
  • A Henderson attorney neglected his client’s traffic case, did not communicate with his client, did not supervise his nonlawyer assistant, did not refund an unearned fee and did not participate in the State Bar’s mandatory fee dispute resolution program.
  • An Asheville lawyer did not protect her client’s interests when she withdrew from representation.
  • A Charlotte lawyer argued the merits of her client’s case in emails to a judge and clerk.
  • A Winston-Salem lawyer charged clearly excessive fees and did not participate in the Bar’s fee dispute program.
  • A Shelby lawyer neglected her duty to settle the estates of her clients’ parents and did not keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed about the status of the case.

Source: NC State Bar http://www.ncbar.com/discipline/

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man has practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at 919-619-2441 or jay.reeves@ymail.com.

 

 

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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