Category Archives: Attorney discipline

New Jersey lawyer suspended for, inter alia, revealing confidential information in review of former client’s business

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent New Jersey Supreme Court opinion which imposed a one year suspension on a lawyer for, inter alia, providing a negative public review of a client’s business on Yelp and disclosing confidential information in the review.  The case is: In the Matter of Brian LeBon Calpin (New Jersey Supreme Court No. D-67 083821).  The May 7, 2020 opinion is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1129260

The NJ SC opinion essentially adopts the NJ Disciplinary Review Board Decision which found that the lawyer posted a negative public review of the client’s massage business on June 24, 2018 on the Yelp website after the client had posted public negative online reviews of his legal services.  The lawyer had ceased representing the client in “early summer 2017”.  The DRB Decision is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1124239

According to the Decision, the lawyer’s review of the former client’s massage business on Yelp stated:

“Well, Angee is a convicted felon for fleeing the state with children. A wonderful parent. Additionally, she has been convicted of shoplifting from a supermarket. Hide your wallets well during a massage. Oops, almost forgot about the DWI conviction. Well, maybe a couple of beers during the massage would be nice.”

The Decision further states that, in his response to the ethics complaint, lawyer stated:

“As to the Yelp rating about (the former client’s) massage therapy business, I admit to same. I was very upset by [her] Yelp rating of my practice. This rating was made more than a year and a half after the conclusion of my representation. My disclosures, i.e. her arrests, were public information and I did not violate attorney client privilege. My position was that what was good for the goose was good for the gander. I do concede that I do not believe that the rating was my finest moment. However, it was not unethical. That posting has subsequently been taken down.”

The Decision found that, although the information posted by the lawyer may have been publicly available, the information was not generally known; therefore, the “generally known” exception in the New Jersey Bar rules regarding client confidentiality did not apply.  The decision also quoted ABA Formal Opinion 479 (December 15, 2017):  “[T]he phrase ‘generally known’ means much more than publicly available or accessible. It means that the information has already received widespread publicity.”

The Decision also found that the lawyer’s conduct in three other client matters violated ethics rules related to neglect, diligence, failure to keep clients informed, failure to deliver client funds or property, and failure to return client property after representation. The lawyer also told to a Bar investigator that he had sent a refund check to a former client, which was a misrepresentation.

The lawyer had prior discipline for “similar ethics infractions, evidencing his failure to learn from past mistakes: a June 19, 2014 reprimand for gross neglect, lack of diligence, and failure to communicate with a client, and a January 24, 2017 admonition for lack of diligence in a client matter.”

Bottom line:  This is another unfortunate example of a lawyer reacting badly to a client’s negative online review and including confidential (and not generally known) information in responding to a negative client review.  As I have said and written many times, lawyers are not permitted to include client confidential information in responding to negative online reviews that are in the public domain.

Stay safe and healthy and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Ohio lawyer who stole $128,674.30 from mentally ill client, including charging hourly rate for mowing her lawn, indefinitely suspended

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court opinion indefinitely suspending an Ohio lawyer who stole over $128,674.30 from mentally ill client, including charging hourly rate for mowing her lawn, helping find an apartment, and shopping for her.  The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Buttars, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-1511.  The April 21, 2020 opinion is here:  http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2020/2020-Ohio-1511.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer first began working for the client, who suffered from mental illness, alcoholism, and depression, in 2015. His law firm agreed to represent the client for $20 per month but the lawyer entered into a separate written fee agreement to represent her “in any capacity” at an hourly billable rate of $250.00.  The client told the lawyer that she could not pay him immediately; however, she was going to receive “a substantial inheritance” from her mother’s estate when the mother passed away.

After the client’s mother died in 2015, the lawyer, who had his own law firm at that time, assisted with the administration of the client’s mother’s estate and also performed nonlegal, personal jobs for her, including assisting her with a new apartment, mowing her lawn, and shopping for her. He charged either his hourly rate of $250.00 or the paralegal rate of $150.00 per hour.

The lawyer transferred $10,000.00 from one of the client’s bank accounts in May 2016 for personal and business expenses.  He told her that he made a mistake and advised her to sign a promissory note saying that it was a loan; however, he did not advise her that she could seek independent counsel on the issue.

The lawyer was convicted of fourth-degree felony theft from the client in May 2019 and was temporarily suspended based upon that conviction.  A disciplinary complaint was subsequently filed against the lawyer for violating rules prohibiting collecting illegal or clearly excessive fees; entering into a business transaction with a client without complying with the requirements of the disciplinary rules; and fraud.

According to the opinion, “(t)he parties stipulated—and the board agreed—that although (the lawyer) transferred $147,710.85 from E.H.’s accounts, he and his law firm had earned only $19,036.55, leaving $128,674.30 as the total amount that he had either stolen or overcharged. (The lawyer) repaid to E.H. $12,500 in January 2017 and $50,000 during his criminal proceeding. Therefore, at the time of his disciplinary hearing, he owed E.H. restitution in the amount of $66,174.30, which included the $29,450 that he had been ordered to make as part of his criminal sentence. Because the criminal case did not account for the amounts that (the lawyer) had overcharged E.H., the restitution amount in this disciplinary matter is substantially greater than that ordered in (the lawyer’s) criminal case.”

The lawyer paid $12,500.00 back in January 2017 and $50,000.00 during the criminal proceedings, which left a balance of more than $66,000.00 owed, including $29,450.00 that the lawyer had been ordered to make as part of his criminal sentence.  The opinion found aggravating factors of acting with a dishonest and selfish motive, engaging in a pattern of misconduct, and committing multiple offenses while representing a “particularly vulnerable client”.

According to the opinion, “(t)he presumptive sanction for an attorney’s misappropriation of client funds is disbarment, but that presumption may be tempered with sufficient evidence of mitigating or extenuating circumstances…(t)he board accepted the parties’ proposed sanction and recommends that we indefinitely suspend (the lawyer)—rather than disbar him—based on his acceptance of responsibility, sincere remorse, and commitment to make things right with E.H. To support its recommendation, the board cited two cases in which we indefinitely suspended attorneys who similarly misappropriated funds while serving in positions of trust.”

The opinion imposed an indefinite suspension, with no credit for the time that he was suspended under the interim felony suspension and his reinstatement was conditioned upon proof of the lawyer’s payment of the remaining $66,000.00 owed his client.

Bottom line:  This lawyer admitted stealing or “overcharging” $128,674.30 from the client; however, he was indefinitely suspended and not disbarred.  This most likely would not happened in Florida (or most other jurisdictions).

Be careful out there.

 

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Illinois disciplinary complaint alleges that law firm partner double billed clients and charged personal expenses to firm

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Illinois disciplinary complaint which alleges that a now former law firm partner double billed clients more than $108,674.00 and improperly charged personal expenses of $78,790.43 to the law firm. The case is Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission v. Robert John Hankes, Commission No. 2019PR00102, and the complaint is here:  https://www.iardc.org/19PR0102CM.html

According to the complaint, “In 2009, the firm performed services for a separate client (a construction company) in connection with a contract dispute. The firm assigned that matter an internal number that it used for billing purposes, and Respondent was aware of that number because he was the billing attorney responsible for the matter. That billing number became dormant in 2011, about two years after the firm’s involvement in the contract dispute ended.”

The financial institution’s agreements with the customer companies permitted them to be billed directly by the law firm for legal services in certain matters.  The complaint alleges that in one matter, the lawyer billed both the financial institution client and one of its lessees $23,782.50 for the same legal services related to a lease. The lawyer applied the double payment to the dormant law firm account that he reactivated and controlled.

According to the complaint, between January 31, 2018 and September 27, 2019, the lawyer sent eight more false invoices to the financial institution’s customer companies, receiving $108,674.00, which he deposited into the reactivated account. He also allegedly billed the financial institution for those same services.

During that same time, the lawyer allegedly also charged his business and personal expenses to the dormant account, receiving $78,790.43, including golf fees, dining, and travel expenses.  The lawyer was terminated in October 2019 after the alleged misconduct was discovered.

Bottom line:  If the allegations in this Illinois disciplinary complaint are true, this lawyer was greedy and believed that his surreptitious actions would keep his misconduct from being discovered.  He was wrong.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an “incoherent” appeal brief written by his client is sanctioned by U.S. Seventh Circuit

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which discusses the recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on an Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an appellate brief which was “incoherent and filled with utterly baseless factual assertions.” apparently drafted by his client.  The case is Edith McCurry v. Kenco Logistics Services,  No. No. 18-3206.  The November 7, 2019 opinion with an Order to Show Cause what sanctions should be imposed is here:  http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2019/D11-07/C:18-3206:J:Sykes:aut:T:fnOp:N:2426737:S:0 and the December 16, 2019 Order imposing sanctions on the lawyer is here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bB6rl4nyIbhBPMUGAHYjov1t3ez5cpWW/view

The November 7, 2019 opinion upheld the dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit filed by the client stating “(t)his appeal represents a shameful waste of judicial resources.  The opinion also ordered the lawyer to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned.  According to the opinion, “(t)he hopelessness of (the plaintiff’s) cause didn’t deter her lawyer, Jordan Hoffman, from signing and submitting a bizarre appellate brief laden with assertions that have no basis in the record and arguments that have no basis in the law.  In so doing, Hoffman violated Rule 28 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.”

The opinion also stated that the “monstrosity of an appellate brief” was “incoherent,” and the appeal was “utterly frivolous.”  The brief “spans 86 interminable pages”, is “neither concise nor clear,” and “is chock-full of impenetrable arguments and unsupported assertions, and it is organized in ways that escape our understanding.” In a footnote, the opinion also stated that the brief was “a typographical nightmare” that “uses five different fonts and various font sizes, including three different fonts in one sentence, and capitalizes words seemingly at random.”

The lawyer, who had been practicing for over 30 years, responded to the Order to Show Cause stating that he did not have time to write an appellate brief or review the lower court record and did not recognize that it was “a hopeless case.” He also said that the client was a friend who had filed the discrimination lawsuit without a lawyer and that he agreed to appear on her behalf at oral argument.  He also admitted that he had permitted her to submit the brief under his name using his electronic filing credentials.

The lawyer stated that “these were all grave errors of judgment, and I can only apologize to the court and promise that I will never allow this occur again.”  “I have suffered through the most embarrassing and stressful moments of my legal career and perhaps my life during the oral argument and after the publication of the court’s opinion, and my reputation has been tarnished at the highest level as a result of my actions that caused such a scathing opinion in this matter.”  He further stated that he “embarrassed the venerable profession of law and the bar to which I have enjoyed the privilege of being a member for over 32 years during which time my competence has not been called into question.”

In the December 16, 2019 Order, the court stated that “Hoffman’s acceptance of responsibility is appropriate. Still, judicial resources were needlessly consumed, and the defendants were put to the burden and expense of sorting through and defending against a patently frivolous appeal. Sanctions are therefore warranted. Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 38, we order Hoffmann to pay the defendants a reasonable attorney’s fee incurred in the defense of this appeal, plus double costs. The defendants shall submit a statement of their fees and costs by January 3, 2020.”

Bottom line:  This is an example of what can go horribly wrong if a lawyer agrees to represent a “friend” as a client, fails to competently represent that client, and allows the client to draft and use his credentials to electronically file a “monstrosity” of a brief.  This lawyer was embarrassed professionally and was required to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and double costs under the federal rules.  Don’t do it…

…and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, competence, Federal Court Sanctions incoherent brief, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lack of diligence negligence, Lawyer diligence, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized

Pennsylvania lawyer disbarred after practicing law for 17 years while under administrative suspension

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss a recent disbarment of a lawyer who continued to practice law for 17 years while suspended for failing to pay the annual registration fee.  The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Jason Michael Purcell, No. 2651 Disciplinary Docket 3, No. DB 2018 and the October 31, 2019 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer with the detailed Report and Recommendations of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board dated September 4, 2019 is here:  http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/142DB2018-Purcell.pdf

According to the Disciplinary Board Report, the lawyer was suspended on December 1, 2002, for failing to pay his annual attorney registration fee; however, he continued to claim that he was a practicing attorney through social media.  He claimed on LinkedIn that he had “15-plus years of diverse legal experience” and that he was licensed to practice in California, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

The lawyer also falsely claimed that he held several jobs in the legal field, including working as in-house counsel and an associate broker for a private boutique real estate firm in New York from 2012 to 2017.  The Report also found that the lawyer had appeared as counsel in a drunken driving case and custody matter in 2005, worked as counsel of record in a drug case, and helped prepare a petition to recanvass voting machines in 2006.

The lawyer also represented an individual in an abuse protection matter in 2018 and told the judge in that matter that he had been reinstated; however, he never provided any documents showing that he had been reinstated.

According to the Report: “During his lengthy period of administrative suspension, respondent engaged in serious professional misconduct by continuing to hold himself out to the public as an active member of the Pennsylvania Bar and representing clients in at least five legal matters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The lawyer was also convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol twice and he was charged with a third DUI in 2006; however, he failed to appear in the case.

The lawyer failed to respond to the disciplinary charges and did not appear at the disciplinary hearing.  The Supreme Court adopted the findings in the Board report and disbarred the lawyer.

Bottom line:  It is very surprising, to say the least, that this lawyer was able to practice for 17 years while under suspension for failing to pay his annual attorney registration fee.  It is somewhat more surprising that the lawyer did not address and pay the registration fee and request reinstatement.  Finally, it is surprising that the lawyer failed to participate in the disciplinary proceedings; however, this may be at least partially explained by the fact that he was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol twice and was charged with a third DUI in 2006, but failed to appear.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

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Iowa lawyer suspended for 4 months without possibility of reinstatement for misappropriating fees from his law firm

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Iowa Supreme Court opinion which suspended a lawyer for 4 months without the possibility of reinstatement for misappropriating fees from his law firm and stated that “(w)e think the time has come to ratchet up the disciplinary sanctions for nonclient theft.”  The case is Iowa Supreme Court Disciplinary Board v. Curtis Den Beste, No 19-0360.  The September 13, 2019 Iowa Supreme Court opinion is here: https://www.iowacourts.gov/courtcases/7209/embed/SupremeCourtOpinion.

The lawyer began practicing law in Iowa in 2000.  He received an offer in 2007 to practice with a law firm and entered into an agreement with the law firm regarding fees.  The agreement required him to deposit all earned client fees into the firm trust account or the general/operating account and he would be paid fifty percent of the earned fees and the firm would keep the remainder.

Beginning in 2015, the lawyer accepted cash payments for fees from some clients and kept the fees instead of depositing them as required by his agreement with the firm.  According to the opinion, after his misconduct was discovered, “(the lawyer) agreed to self-report his misconduct to the disciplinary board and to provide an accounting of the diverted funds as well as a repayment plan.”

The lawyer’s accounting (which was confirmed by the Iowa Bar/Disciplinary Board) showed that he received a total of $18,200.00 and, after for the fifty-percent split and other tax and reimbursement considerations, the lawyer wrongfully misappropriated $9,200.00 from the law firm.

“It is certainly true that, in many cases, fee disputes between a lawyer and his or her current or former law firm might simply be contract disputes and nothing more. For example, a lawyer with a good-faith claim to fees should not be sanctioned merely for exercising or asserting such a claim. But not all fee disputes between a lawyer and a law firm are garden variety contract disputes. Some involve outright and undisputed theft. In such cases, the imposition of discipline is clearly appropriate.”

“The question then arises whether theft from a client is more serious than theft from a law firm or other third party. In our prior cases, the difference has often been dramatic. Theft of any amount by a lawyer from a client ordinarily results in revocation. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Parrish, 925 N.W.2d 163, 170–71 (Iowa 2019); Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Guthrie, 901 N.W.2d 493, 500–01 (Iowa 2017). But theft of funds from a law firm can result in much lesser sanctions. Henrichsen, 825 N.W.2d at 529–30.”

“There are, perhaps, some reasons for the distinction between client theft and law firm theft. For instance, many clients have little power against a lawyer in whom the client places trust. A lawyer who steals from a client is preying on those often in an extremely vulnerable position who have placed trust in the lawyer and advanced funds to the lawyer to protect their interests. The relationship between a law firm and a lawyer ordinarily will have less of a power imbalance. The firm is in a better position, perhaps, than a client to monitor the proper handling of fees.”

“Yet, a lawyer who acts dishonestly toward an employer raises serious questions of whether the lawyer has the necessary integrity to practice law.”

“(W)e think the time has come to ratchet up the disciplinary sanctions for nonclient theft. That said, this case may not be the appropriate case to do so. In particular, given our caselaw, Den Beste was not on notice that he faced a possible revocation when he entered into the stipulation in this case. Cf. Iowa Supreme Ct. Att’y Disciplinary Bd. v. Cepican, 861 N.W.2d 841, 845 (Iowa 2015) (finding the attorney did not waive his right to contest a complaint of theft-based misconduct by failing to respond because he did not receive adequate notice of the allegation of theft). Thus, we rely on our precedent and impose a sanction in this case consistent with our prior cases. At the same time, we use this case as a vehicle to put the bar on notice that an attorney who steals from a law firm without a colorable claim may well incur stiffer disciplinary sanctions than have been imposed in our past cases.”

Thus, we rely on our precedent and impose a sanction in this case consistent with our prior cases. At the same time, we use this case as a vehicle to put the bar on notice that an attorney who steals from a law firm without a colorable claim may well incur stiffer disciplinary sanctions than have been imposed in our past cases.

“Upon full consideration of this matter, we order that the license of Curtis W. Den Beste to practice law in Iowa be suspended indefinitely with no possibility of reinstatement for a period not less than four months, effective with the filing of this opinion.”

A dissenting justice would have revoked the lawyer’s license to practice law.

“On multiple occasions, Den Beste knowingly embezzled money from his law firm and then attempted to conceal what he had done. He had no colorable claim to nor was there any fee dispute regarding that money. “[I]t is almost axiomatic that the licenses of lawyers who convert funds entrusted to them should be revoked.” Iowa Supreme Ct. Bd. of Prof’l Ethics & Conduct v. Irwin, 679 N.W.2d 641, 644 (Iowa 2004). Accordingly, I would revoke Den Beste’s license to practice law.”

Bottom line:  The opinion discusses the differences between law firm theft and theft from the client and others.  The Iowa Supreme Court has provided notice to lawyers that future law firm theft will result in stiffer disciplinary sanctions than in the past.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, deceit, dishonesty, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer misappropriation, Lawyer misappropriation of fees, Lawyer stealing from law firm, Misappropriation from law firm suspension, Uncategorized