Category Archives: lawyer false billing

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

 

Leave a comment

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