Category Archives: fraud

Pennsylvania woman who impersonated a lawyer for 10 years is sentenced to 2 to 5 years in prison

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will update my March 30, 2016 blog and discuss recent sentence of a Pennsylvania woman who impersonated a lawyer for 10 years.  The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Kimberly M. Kitchen, case number CP-31-CR-0000274-2015 (Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County).  The court docket is here:  https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CPReport.ashx?docketNumber=CP-31-CR-0000274-2015

According to media reports, the woman was a partner at a Pennsylvania law firm when her actions were discovered later that year.  In the winter of 2014, attorney Gregory Jackson was creating a seniority list for the Huntingdon County Bar Association (for whom the lawyer had previously served as President) but could not find any information on her indicating that she was a lawyer.  He then reported her.

She had spent the previous 10 years impersonating a lawyer when the state attorney general’s office brought criminal charges against her in 2015.  According to the criminal charges and media reports, the individual created fictitious bar examination results and a law license and also a false check for the state attorney registration fee.  She also created a false e-mail purportedly showing that she attended Duquesne University law school.

The individual had handled estate planning for clients and was made a partner at her firm.  Her law firm biography page (which has been deleted) claimed that she spent a decade as a paralegal at another firm in Pittsburgh and that she graduated summa cum laude from Duquesne law school.

On March 24, 2016, the individual was found guilty of misdemeanor UPL, misdemeanor forgery, and felony tampering with a public record/information.  On July 19, 2016, the judge sentenced her to two to five years in prison.  According to online media reports, the prison sentence was “on the higher end of the sentencing guidelines”.  The judge stated that there were several reasons for the sentence, including: “not only did she pretend to be a lawyer but she pretended to be the best and biggest around.”

Two of the media reports are here: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/one_time_law_firm_partner_without_law_degree_is_sentenced_for_unlicensed_pr and here: http://wjactv.com/news/local/huntingdon-county-woman-exposed-as-a-fraudulent-lawyer-sentenced-to-prison

Bottom line:  This individual appears to have been successful in boldly impersonating an attorney and pretending “to be the best and biggest around” for over ten years.  She was made a partner and served as a county Bar president using the false credentials and a nonexistent license to practice.  She was ultimately discovered and will now serve 2 to 5 years in prison.  The takeaway:  lawyers must be very wary and be sure to fully investigate any lawyer that are being considered for employment.  It is easy to do this in Florida, just go here: Florida Bar find a lawyer.

Be careful out there.

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

Please note:  Effective June 27, 2016, my new office address is:

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150, Clearwater, Florida 33761

E-mail addresses and telephone numbers below will remain the same. 

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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Pennsylvania lawyer agrees to disbarment for forging judge’s name on court order and misspelling it

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court disciplinary Order disbarring a lawyer on consent for forging a judge’s name on an Order and misspelling it. The disciplinary case is In the Matter of Stephen P. Ellwood, Docket No. 181 DB 2015 (11/10/15), and the disbarment entry is here:  http://www.padisciplinaryboard.org/look-up/supreme-court-actions.php

According to media reports, the lawyer represented a client in a matter and claimed that he had obtained the $250,000.00 judgment.  The former client then went to another lawyer for assistance in collecting the judgment that he thought he had received; however, the new lawyer noticed that the judge’s name had been misspelled in the order.

After being confronted with the evidence, the lawyer admitted to forging the signature and agreed to two years of probation with 75 hours of community service in a criminal prosecution.  The lawyer then agreed to be disbarred by consent after admitting to forging a judge’s signature on a $250,000.00 judgment.  The media reports are here:  http://www.pennlive.com/news/2015/11/schuylkill_attorney_disbarred.html and here: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_gets_probation_for_forging_judges_name_on_court_order_and_is_disbarr/

Bottom line: This is a very bizarre example of a lawyer who apparently wanted a client to believe that he had accomplished a positive result and resorted to creating a false judgment, which led to his criminal prosecution and disbarment.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tennessee lawyer who, inter alia, billed clients for watching crime TV shows and was “doggedly unrepentant” is suspended for one year

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Tennessee Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which suspended a lawyer for one year for, inter alia, billing clients for watching true-crime shows.  The opinion is Yarboro Sallee v. Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, No. E2014-01062-SC-R3-BP (July 23, 2015) and is online here:  http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/sites/default/files/salleeyarboro.opn_.pdf

According to the opinion, the underlying matter involved an accident which occurred on October 15, 2009.  The decedent, Lori Noll, fell down steps in her home and died five days later. Although a medical examiner found that the death was accidental, the Ms. Noll’s parents suspected that their daughter’s husband was motivated by a one-million dollar insurance policy on Ms. Noll’s life and was responsible for her death.

The lawyer was hired by the parents in September 2010 to file a wrongful death action.  The lawyer estimated that the litigation would cost no more than $100,000.00.  The parents agreed to pay the lawyer an hourly rate of $250.00 and paid her an initial retainer of $5,000.00.  The parents paid the lawyer an additional $15,000.00 and, within a month after the initial engagement, the parents paid an additional $19,000.00 in three separate checks: (1) $10,000.00 as a further retainer (2) $4,000.00 flat fee for the juvenile court proceeding, and (3) $5,000.00 to retain a forensics expert.

Less than three months later, the lawyer claimed that she had incurred hourly fees totaling over $140,000.00.  At that point, she had done “little more” than file the wrongful death complaint, file related pleadings in probate and juvenile court, and gather records.  When the lawyer insisted that the clients agree to pay her a contingency fees plus the hourly fees, they terminated her.

After the clients terminated the lawyer, she refused to return to them important evidence and documents related to the wrongful death litigation, including brain tissue slides from their daughter’s autopsy. The clients sued the lawyer to force her to return the withheld items and the lawyer threatened to file criminal charges against them. The clients then filed a complaint against the lawyer with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

The Professional Responsibility Board investigated the lawyer, who argued that her conduct had been reasonable and ethical.  She provided the Board documentation of her hourly charges, which claimed that she had worked as many as 23 hours of billable time in a single day and included fees for tasks such as watching many hours of reality and fictional crime TV shows.

A hearing panel found that the lawyer had violated numerous the Bar by charging excessive fees, demanding that the clients agree to pay a contingency fee in addition to hourly fees, failing to communicate with the clients regarding the basis for the fees, improperly withholding items from the clients after they discharged her, and threatening to file criminal charges against the clients. The hearing panel found five aggravating factors: (1) a dishonest and selfish motive; (2) a pattern of misconduct; (3) multiple offenses; (4) refusal to acknowledge the wrongfulness of her conduct; and (5) indifference to making restitution and one mitigating factor: the absence of a prior disciplinary record and recommended a one year suspension.

The lawyer requested judicial review of the hearing panel’s recommendation, and the trial judge upheld the sanction. The lawyer then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, claiming that there was no basis for finding ethical violations and that the one year suspension was too severe.  The opinion upheld the hearing panel’s findings that the lawyer violated multiple ethical rules and the one year suspension.  “At every turn in these proceedings, faced with findings at every level that her conduct breached numerous ethical rules, Attorney Sallee has been doggedly unrepentant. Indeed, her consistent response has bordered on righteous indignation.”

The opinion further stated:  “Assuming arguendo that the hourly rate of $250 per hour is reasonable for Attorney Sallee’s experience and ability, it is important under the Rules that the lawyer ensure that the work for which he or she seeks to charge the client is ‘reasonable.’ For example, a lawyer who represents criminal clients may be interested in watching Perry Mason or Breaking Bad on television, and may even pick up a useful tidbit or two from doing so. The lawyer may not, however, equate that to research for which he or she may charge a client. In this case, the Panel did not err in considering the many hours Attorney Sallee sought to charge the Claimants for watching television shows such as 48 Hours.

“Attorney Sallee also objected to the trial court’s comment that she ‘watched TV and charged her client for it.’ She characterized this statement as ‘ridiculous,’ adding, ‘since when is television not a respectable avenue for research anyway.’ Attorney Sallee pointed to a particular time entry on her ‘billing statement’ as legitimate billable time because it was spent watching a five-hour documentary on the Peterson ‘Stair Case Murder’ in North Carolina. Her motion did not address a 12.5-hour time entry on September 25, 2010, for watching ‘48 Hours’ episodes on similar spousal homicides, a 4.0-hour time entry on October 19, 2010 for watching four ‘48 Hours’ episodes on asphyxia, or a 3.5-hour time entry on October 20, 2010 for watching these same ‘48 Hours’ episodes a second time. At Attorney Sallee’s regular hourly rate, this would amount to over $5,000 for watching episodes of ‘48 Hours.’”

Bottom line: This is an egregious example of a lawyer seriously abusing billable time and charging an excessive fee, including charging as many as 23 billable hours in one day and charging multiple billable hours watching crime TV shows.  To compound her problems, the lawyer refused to turn over the clients’ evidence and information after they had terminated her and apparently completely failed to grasp that she had committed any misconduct.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New York lawyer suspended for 3 months for, inter alia, making racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, insulting judge, and being disrupting

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York Appellate Court disciplinary opinion suspending a lawyer who, inter alia, was found to have made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge, and being disruptive in a hearing room.  The disciplinary opinion is Matter of Teague 2015 NY Slip Op 06301, Appellate Division, First Department (July 28, 2015) and the opinion is online at justia.com here: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-first-department/2015/m-1137.html

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted in New York in 1993.  In 2012 and 2013, the New York Disciplinary Committee brought 13 charges against the lawyer.  After a hearing, the assigned referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of 6 of the charges, which were related to his “demeanor and actions”. The six charges were confirmed by the New York Hearing Panel in a report dated January 13, 2015 and other the seven charges were dismissed.

The lawyer was charged with having made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge in a public forum, and being disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importuning court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.

The evidence included testimony of three Administrative Law Judges: one judge received complaints of “disruptive or explosive conduct” by the lawyer and personally witnessed the behavior on several occasions; a second judge was called “a disgrace” by the lawyer in an open hearing room during or after a contentious hearing.  A third judge had admonished the lawyer for talking in the courtroom, and the lawyer responded by becoming “irate, rude, loud, and combative”.  Three attorneys who practiced traffic law in the same place as the lawyer (traffic court) testified that the lawyer had cursed and made “obscene, racist comments, and uttered profanities about ethnicity and homosexuality” “for years” in the public areas of the court.  The had also threatened one of the attorneys on more than one occasion.

The referee report recommended that the lawyer be “publicly sanctioned” and directed to attend an anger management program, based on the “vituperative and unseemly remarks” made to two Administrative Law Judges and the inappropriate language used with other attorneys. The referee also noted the unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace.”  The referee attributed respondent’s misbehavior to “poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”

The report further found that the lawyer admitted that he used inappropriate language, he intended to seek counseling, and he had never been convicted of any offense involving violence.  The lawyer is active in his church, does pro bono work related to traffic cases, and “seeks to be successful on behalf of his clients”.  The Hearing Panel rejected the referee’s recommendation of a “public sanction” and recommended a one month suspension.

After citing to relevant case law, the opinion states:

“Even assuming, as the Referee found, that it is true that inappropriate language by attorneys is commonplace at the (court), we fail to see how this constitutes mitigation or otherwise excuses respondent’s ongoing and public inappropriate behavior. Respondent has shown inexcusable disrespect in open court to two Administrative Law Judges. He has spewed racist, sexist, homophobic and offensive epithets against other attorneys that any reasonable person, let alone a reasonable attorney, would know are simply unacceptable in public discourse…Respondent’s conduct should not and will not be tolerated.  Furthermore, we find it of concern that he attempted to undermine the functioning of the (court) by his repeated requests of the clerks to recalendar cases, even after being informed by more than one clerk that what he was asking would violate (court) policy.

The opinion rejected the one month suspension and suspended the lawyer for three months and also required the lawyer to continue offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, anger management treatment for one year.

Bottom line:  The practice of law is extremely stressful and lawyers strive to keep the stress (and any improper impulses) under control.  This lawyer clearly failed to do this and made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulted an administrative law judge in a public forum, was disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importune(ed) court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.  Notwithstanding that there was an “unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace’ at the court, the opinion suspended the lawyer for 3 months” and cited his poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”  This lawyer should be happy that the sanction was only a three (3) month suspension.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kentucky lawyer permanently disbarred after pleading guilty to felony “flagrant non-support” for failing to pay over $200,000.00 in child support

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss a recent Kentucky Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer after the lawyer pled guilty to felony “flagrant non-support for failing to pay over $200,000.00 in child support. The case is Kentucky Bar Association v. Daniel Warren James, Case No. 2014-SC-000499-KB (Ky. SC February 19, 2015) and the opinion is here: http://opinions.kycourts.net/sc/2014-SC-000499-KB.pdf.

According to the opinion, the lawyer pled guilty in 2012 to a felony charge of “flagrant non-support”, received 5 years in prison with probation for 10 years and was ordered to pay $233,000.00 in restitution. On February 8, 2013, after the plea was entered, the Kentucky Bar Association Inquiry Commission filed a complaint against the lawyer and he failed to respond.

On March 11, 2014, the Commission filed formal charges against the lawyer. Count I alleged misconduct for committing a criminal act reflecting adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer and Count II alleged misconduct for knowingly failing to respond to the February 8, 2013 complaint. The lawyer again failed to respond and was defaulted.

The lawyer had previously been suspended for five years for a multiple acts of misconduct, including not returning unearned fees, misappropriating client money for personal use, and altering billing statements. The lawyer admitted that misconduct and claimed that it was a result of the discontinuation of medication that he was taking for a mental health condition. As a condition of that suspension, the lawyer agreed to seek treatment through Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program (KYLAP) and to continue treatment as needed during the suspension period.

On August 21, 2014, the Kentucky Board of Governors filed its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendations with the Supreme Court and unanimously recommended that the lawyer be found guilty and that he be permanently disbarred. In aggravation, the Board noted the $233,000.00 child support arrearage that the lawyer had failed to pay over a thirteen year period, his prior discipline, most of which involved the misuse of client funds, and his failure to respond to his clients and the Bar.

The Supreme Court opinion noted that a lawyer in Kentucky had never been disciplined for criminally failing to pay child support; however, it found that the conduct violated the lawyer’s duty “’to conduct (his) personal and professional life in such manner as to be above reproach’. Grigsby v. Kentucky Bar Ass’n, 181 S.W.3d 40, 42 (Ky. 2005). ‘Failing to pay court ordered child support encompasses several breaches, including: failure to satisfy the statutory obligation of supporting one’s child; failure to follow a court order; and violation of the attorney’s duty recognized in Grigsby.’” The lawyer was permanently disbarred.

Bottom line: This sole practitioner apparently had serious mental health issues which destroyed his practice and resulted in his permanent disbarment. All lawyers, especially solos, must address the extreme stress involved in the practice of law and be fully aware of the consequences of personal and professional misconduct (including willful or “flagrant” failure to pay child support) that may be triggered due to the stress of practice (and life) and seek medical help.

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.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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Louisiana Disciplinary Board recommends year and one day suspension for lawyer who allegedly offered bribe to a witness and lied about it

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board Recommendation of a one year and one day suspension for, inter alia, alleged attempts to bribe a witness and false statements denying the misconduct. The disciplinary opinion is In re: Donald R. Pryor, No: 13-DB-036 (February 5, 2015) and the disciplinary recommendation is online here: https://www.ladb.org/DR/handler.document.aspx?DocID=8353

According to the Recommendation, the Disciplinary Committee found that the following facts were established: “Respondent represented Ms. Winborn, who was charged with simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in the criminal proceeding State of Louisiana v. Emily Winborn, Case Number 498-791, Sec. A, of the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans. Mr. Bode’s neighbor saw Ms. Winborn exiting Mr. Bode’s house carrying the black camera bag where he kept his gun. When Mr. Bode returned home after the neighbor called him, he discovered that his gun was gone. Ms. Winborn was charged with entering Mr. Bode’s home and stealing a gun. Respondent came to a restaurant Mr. Bode owns with his daughter and offered him $300 to drop the charges against Ms. Winborn. During the first visit Mr. Bode told Respondent that he had found the gun and that he would not drop the charges. The day before Ms. Winborn’s trial, Respondent came to the restaurant again and offered Mr. Bode $500 not to show up in court for Ms. Winborn’s trial. Ms. Winborn was convicted of the crime.” (emphasis supplied)

The Disciplinary Committee found that “(t)his matter came down to credibility. Mr. Bode was a credible witness, with no apparent motive to lie about his interactions with Respondent. For the most part, Respondent admitted to the facts as Mr. Bode related regarding the two visits at the restaurant. The significant divergence was that Respondent contended that the payment was only restitution, and whether Respondent offered $500 to induce Mr. Bode to fail to appear at the trial.”

“(A)fter hearing the testimony, observing the witnesses demeanors, and considering the logical interpretation of the interactions, the Committee finds that Respondent went to visit Mr. Bode at the restaurant where he worked and offered him $300 as payment if he would to agree to drop the charges against Ms. Winborn. Although Respondent calls the $300 an offer of restitution, it clearly was conditioned upon Mr. Bode agreeing to drop the charges. When Mr. Bode refused, he was not paid the ‘restitution.’ Moreover, payment for the loss of the gun was not necessary because Mr. Bode told Respondent that he had found the gun.”

“The second visit, which occurred ten days later and the day before the trial, included an increased offer of $500 as payment for not showing up on the day of trial. Although Respondent attempted to show that Mr. Bode’s memory was failing, the details he did remember – along with a lack of true motive to lie either at trial or the hearing – leads the Committee to believe Mr. Bode’s version of the facts.”

“Thus, clearly the initial $300 was offered not as “restitution,” but strictly as a bribe for Mr. Bode to dismiss the charges against Respondent’s client. In addition, the $500 was offered, on the day before the trial, and as a last resort, so that Mr. Bode would not appear at the trial and thus make it more likely that the charges would be dropped. Respondent’s conduct was a criminal act reflecting adversely on Respondent’s honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer, and was conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. His testimony at the hearing also involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The Disciplinary Committee recommended that the lawyer be disbarred. The Disciplinary Board adopted the Disciplinary Committee’s finding of fact and conclusions of law and finding that Respondent violated Rules 8.4(a) through (d). After confirming that “(i)t is well-settled that the baseline sanction for misconduct arising out of felony convictions involving bribery is disbarment” and discussing the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the Disciplinary Board reduced the recommended discipline to a suspension of one year and one day, which would require a showing of rehabilitation.

Bottom line: According to the Louisiana Disciplinary Board Recommendation, this lawyer offered a bribe to a witness to “fail to appear at trial” and engaged in misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation by denying that he offered the bribe. Notwithstanding these facts, the Board surprisingly reduced the recommended discipline from disbarment to a suspension of one year and one day. The Louisiana Supreme Court will now review the recommendation and issue a final disciplinary opinion.

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.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

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