Category Archives: dishonesty

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

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Florida Supreme Court permanently disbars lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into former law firm, creating parallel firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Order permanently disbarring a Florida lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into his former law firm and the firm’s storage unit, creating a parallel law firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Christopher Louis Brady, Case No.: SC19-39, TFB No. 2019-10,127(12B)(HES).  The July 11, 2019 Florida Supreme Court Order is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/2A42CACF97608E7785258439000C41B7/$FILE/_11.PDF 

According to the referee’s report, the lawyer was employed as an associate at a law firm and was fired in July 2018 after missing hearings and for exhibiting “odd and concerning behavior.”  Almost immediately after his firing, the lawyer began holding himself out as the owner of the former law firm even though there was one sole owner.  The Report of Referee is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/32070D97303477DA852583DF000AB0F1/$FILE/_19.PDF.  The lawyer justified his actions by claiming that the former law firm’s failure to use periods in “PA” when created as a professional association gave him the right to create a new firm of the same name by filing as a professional association with periods, so that it read “P.A.”.

The lawyer and his twin brother were also criminally charged with burglarizing the former law firm’s office in August 2018.  A videotape of the burglary apparently showed the lawyer and his brother backing a truck up to the law firm, tying a rope from the truck to the front door and using the vehicle to rip the door open. The video also showed the lawyer and his brother removing a safe and the law firm’s computer server.  A few days later, the lawyer and his brother burglarized the law firm owner’s storage unit using keys which were taken from a safe that was stolen during the law firm burglary, according to the referee.  The lawyer also stole a firearm during the burglary.

The lawyer filed several documents on behalf of the law firm and its clients without their knowledge or authority, and filed a false confession of judgment in his own favor.  He also filed more than 100 notices of liens for fees in the law firm’s pending cases “in an attempt to grab fees from cases to which he was not entitled.”

The law firm owner obtained an injunction which barred the lawyer from harassing him or interfering with his business.  The injunction also prohibited the lawyer from contacting the firm owner, his employees, his clients or his attorney. The lawyer violated that injunction multiple times and a court order was issued holding him in contempt for violating the injunction three times.

The referee’s report cited the lawyer’s refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct as one of the multiple aggravating factors and recommended permanent disbarment.  According to the referee’s report, “(the lawyer’s failure to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct) is perhaps the most profoundly implicated aggravator in this case”.  The lawyer “clings to his justification for his actions with a ferocity that is quite disturbing.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly very bizarre and the lawyer’s conduct as set forth in the report of referee is extremely disturbing.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

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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Tennessee lawyer disbarred for, inter alia, false and exaggerated time entries and making false statements in court under oath

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Tennessee Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer for, inter alia, giving a false statement under oath, knowingly testifying falsely in a court proceeding, and seeking an unreasonable fee  The case is Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility v. Loring Edward Justice, Case No. E2017-01334-SC-R3-BP.  The link with the July 2, 2019 SC opinion is here: https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-sc-decision.pdf.

According to the opinion, the lawyer made false and exaggerated time entries when he submitted a request for more than $103,000 in legal fees for the time that he spent fighting Lowe’s Home Centers over a discovery violation.  The lawyer also claimed his paralegal’s work as his own and falsely stated that he had kept “contemporaneous records” of the time he spent in the underlying discovery dispute.  The lawyer also submitted a “grossly exaggerated” fee itemization that included work for which he was not supposed to be paid.

A federal district judge had ordered that the lawyer be paid for the time that he spent locating and deposing a store human resources manager as a sanction for the store’s failure to disclose the name in discovery.  After questions arose about Justice’s legal billings, including seventeen items described as attorney time which were identical or nearly identical to invoices submitted by the lawyer’s paralegal, the judge declined to award fees to the lawyer..  In addition, other billings in the lawyer’s fee itemization were found to be for tasks that were “completely unrelated” to the issues in the dispute.

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel had recommended a one-year suspension rather than a disbarment and the lawyer, and the Board of Professional Responsibility appealed.  The hearing panel’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are here:  https://docs.tbpr.org/justice-2254-hp-judgment.pdf.

A judge assigned to hear the case later modified the suspension recommendation to disbarment, stating that the lawyer’s “intentional deceit” and “total lack of remorse” required disbarment.

The lengthy Supreme Court opinion stated that the evidence “furnishes an eminently sound factual basis for the hearing panel’s decision” and the judge’s modification of the sanction to disbarment.  In a footnote, the opinion stated that some of the lawyer’s arguments were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion”, including the argument that the trial judge’s given name illustrates bias. The footnote states: “Not only is this argument without merit, it is absurd.”  The opinion disbarred the lawyer.

Bottom line:  According to the very lengthy opinion, this lawyer apparently decided to fabricate his time, make false statements, and then continue to argue and claim that the fee was appropriate throughout the proceedings.  He and his lawyers also made arguments that were “too outlandish to dignify with discussion.”

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

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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Illinois disciplinary complaint alleges that lawyer lied about cancer to obtain delays in litigation and justify LSAT score

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Illinois disciplinary complaint that alleges that a lawyer falsely claimed that both he and a nonexistent son had stomach cancer in multiple false statements that began when he applied for admission to law school.  The disciplinary matter is: In the Matter of Vincenzo Field, Commission No. 2018PR00015.  The first amended disciplinary complaint was filed on February 8, 2019 and the link is here:  https://www.iardc.org/18PR0015CM.html

The amended disciplinary complaint alleges that the lawyer made the false cancer claims to courts as well as to his law school and that he made false statements to his former law firm regarding an expert witness who was supposedly unable to provide services because his daughter was hit by a car.

The amended complaint also alleges the lawyer falsely told his law school he had a score of 158 the first time he took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) because he recently had surgery for a stomach cancer called leiomyosarcoma. He also told the law school that he obtained a score 173 on a later LSAT after he allegedly recovered from the surgery.

The amended complaint further alleges that the lawyer used the false cancer tumor and surgery excuse in August and October 2013 when he asked for an extension to the discovery deadline in a litigation matter, and again in another case in December 2015 when he requested a discovery extension. He also allegedly asked for an extension to the deadline to file a court document in the 2013 matter and falsely stated that he had to fly to Montreal for a funeral.

Further, according to the amended complaint, in July 2016, the lawyer told lawyers in another litigation matter who were representing the government that his son was scheduled to undergo cancer surgery and that he would need an extension of time. He later said his son suffered from leiomyosarcoma.  The lawyer did not have a son.  The lawyer then allegedly admitted to the court in August 2016 that he had made the false statements and said that “this is something that I have never done before.”

The lawyer is represented by counsel in the disciplinary matter, and his answer to the initial complaint states that the lawyer had used the false cancer statement in his law school application because he suffered from depression and that the depression required him to take a leave of absence from his studies and affected his ability to perform on the LSAT.

The lawyer admitted to other factual allegations in his answer, but he denied that he acted in bad faith or with the intent to mislead.  He also denied that he had any serious illness and did not admit to any disciplinary rule violations.  The answer to the complaint is here:  https://www.iardc.org/ANS18pr0015.pdf

Bottom line:  If true, the allegations against this lawyer show a serious lack of integrity and truthfulness, to say the least.  If there is an underlying health condition, this should certainly not excuse the alleged conduct; however, it must be addressed, particularly since the lawyer (through his lawyers) denies that he has a “serious illness”.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

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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New York lawyer suspended for lying to law firm about brief filings and drafting fake brief and e-mails to support false statements

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent suspension of a New York law firm associate lawyer who lied about filing briefs and drafted a fake brief and created false e-mails to support his false statements.  The disciplinary opinion is: Matter of McCoobery, 2019 NY Slip Op 00843, Appellate Division, First Department (2/5/18).  The link to the opinion is here:  http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_00843.htm

According to the opinion, in one matter, a firm partner asked the lawyer to draft an appellate opposition brief.  The lawyer wrote and filed the brief without providing it to the partner for review and, when the partner asked to see a draft, the lawyer provided the filed brief to the partner and falsely stated that it was a draft. The partner made revisions to the brief and later discovered that the brief had already been filed.

In the other matter, the partner told the lawyer to send an appellate brief and the record on appeal to the law firm’s printing vendor and to instruct the vendor to serve and file the documents. The lawyer sent the brief and documents to the vendor, but failed to ask for service and filing.

The lawyer also falsely told the partner that he had given the instructions to the vendor and, to cover up the false statements, the lawyer falsely told the partner that he and the opposing counsel had stipulated to an extension for filing the brief.  The lawyer also fabricated an opposition brief and provided it to the partner and falsified e-mails to make it appear that he had received the brief from opposing counsel. As a result, the partner drafted a reply brief.

The opinion further states that the lawyer:

“falsely told the partner that the client’s appeal was calendared for this Court’s June 2017 term. On May 1, 2017, when this Court released its June 2017 calendar, the client’s appeal was not on it.  After noticing the appeal had not been calendared, the partner told respondent he was going to call opposing counsel to find out why the appeal had not been calendared.  Respondent then admitted to the partner that he failed to inform the printing vendor to serve and file the subject documents and admitted his deceptions. On May 2, 2017, respondent tendered his resignation from the firm.”

The lawyer stipulated to the facts and consented to a 3 month suspension.  The opinion stated that the lawyer’s misconduct occurred while he was dealing with his father’s terminal illness and death, he had no previous discipline in more than 20 years of practicing law, and no clients suffered “irreparable” harm.

Bottom line:  In this case, an associate lawyer at a law firm filed a brief without a partner’s review and lied about it, failed to insure that another brief was filed and lied about that, and then drafted a fake brief and falsified e-mails to cover up his misconduct.   Although the opinion states that there was no “irreparable” harm to any clients, I do not know how the failure to file a brief would not result in “irreparable” client harm.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

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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Florida lawyer suspended for hijacking former firm’s e-mail accounts and making disparaging comments on Facebook

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent Florida Supreme Court Order suspending a lawyer for, inter alia, hijacking his former firm’s e-mail accounts and making disparaging comments on Facebook.  The Supreme Court Order is here:  9/20/18 Florida Supreme Court Order-Paul Green

According to the report of referee, which is here:  8/20/18 Green Report of Referee, the lawyer was alleged to have retaliated against his former law firm after he was terminated by hijacking the firm’s e-mail account, posting false and disparaging comments on Facebook about the lawyer who fired him, and communicating inappropriately with a client.

The referee’s report states that the lawyer was fired from his law firm after he used the firm credit card for personal matters, took unauthorized draws from the firm, missed work and took vacations without discussing them with the owner of the firm, made political comments on the firm’s Facebook page, and wrote a derogatory text message about his wife’s lawyer during his divorce. The lawyer’s text said: “Tell Dana Price I hope she dies of dirty Jew AIDS.”

After being terminated, the lawyer changed the password to his former firm’s e-mail accounts and, when the firm turned off the lawyer’s telephones, he agreed to restore the e-mail access only if the firm turned his telephones back on.  After this occurred, however, the lawyer again blocked the firm’s access to e-mail and directed the e-mails to himself.

The lawyer also posted to the law firm’s Facebook page falsely claiming that the firm owner had been “Baker Acted”, a reference to the Florida law related involuntary commitments when a person has a mental condition which poses a danger to that person or to others. The lawyer’s Facebook post also said the letters sent by the former law firm to firm clients that the firm’s e-mails were hacked were untrue.

According to the referee’s report:

“On or about September 5, 2017, Respondent posted the following on Parker & Green, P.A.’s Facebook page:

If you’re wondering what’s going on…Patricia Parker was Baker Acted last Saturday. She has sent letters to all of you clients saying everything was hacked. It wasn’t but please be careful if you decide to go with the law office of Patricia L. Parker. Nothing was hacked but she is trying to get off her suicidal thoughts and is convincing clients she is ok. Don’t worry, my email still works and I am working with the Florida Bar to make sure she gets the help she needs. If you are a client, do not pay a bill until the Florida Bar decides what they will be doing with Ms. Parker. Any correspondence by Alix Diaz who has hacked email accounts owned by Mr. Green, should also be taken with a degree of skepticism. She’s been off her meds for a few months and things have finally taken their toll. I think her impending divorce to her husband for infidelity is part of the problem. If you’re trying to reach Mr. Green, he can still be reached at pgreen@itspersonaljax.com as he owns the domain and website.”

“A short time later in a second post on the firm’s page, Respondent stated:

Everyone should make sure their loved ones don’t need any mental help. Please check. If your brother, sister, father, mother, or business partner threaten to commit suicide … please get them help, before they hurt someone, themselves, or a trusted client. Luckily, Mr. Green doesn’t have that problem. pgreen@itspersonaljax.com.”

The lawyer told the false Baker Act story to a firm client he saw at Everbank Field in Jacksonville. He also said that the other lawyer in the firm had violated ethics rules and that he would finish the client’s case for free if she would make a statement about the other lawyer. He also told the client he would like to get together for drinks to discuss the case.  The lawyer sent numerous texts to the client; however, she did not respond and she subsequently filed a Florida Bar complaint against the lawyer. After the client filed her Bar complaint, the lawyer approached her while she was working as a bartender, slammed his hand down on the bar and said, “Good luck with that complaint.”

The referee recommended a 60 day suspension, a requirement that the lawyer contact Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. (FLA, Inc.) within 30 days for an evaluation and comply with all requirements of the evaluation, including an FLA, Inc. contract if one is recommended, and payment of the Bar and FLA costs.  The Florida Supreme Court Order adopted the findings of the referee and suspended the lawyer for 60 days with the recommended conditions.

Bottom line: This is a lawyer who engaged in improper conduct while with a law firm and then apparently went out of control after being terminated, including posting disparaging comments on social media.  The Court has suspended the lawyer for 60 days and required that he undergo an evaluation through FLA, Inc. and, if recommended, to comply with any and all treatment requirements in an FLA contract.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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