Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pennsylvania lawyer disbarred after secretly referring his law firm’s clients to outside lawyers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order disbarring a lawyer after his conviction for defrauding his law firm out of $3.4 million by secretly referring its personal injury clients to outside lawyers for a percentage of the fees that were generated in the matters.  The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Neil I. Mittin, No. 2669.  The June 11, 2020 Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order disbarring the lawyer on consent and the lawyer’s Disciplinary Resignation are here:  http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/187DB2019-Mittin.pdf

The lawyer was admitted to practice in Pennsylvania 1979 and had practiced law at the law firm where he was a named partner for 38 years. The lawyer pled guilty to mail fraud in September 2019 and was sentenced to five years in prison in March 2020.  He was alleged to have defrauded law firm out of more than $4 million in legal fees; however, the Court awarded $3.4 million in restitution when he pled guilty to the criminal charges.

The lawyer was alleged to have intercepted numerous personal injury and other legal matters from the law firm and then referred to outside attorneys.  The lawyer allegedly hid the scheme from his law firm by making it appear there were no settlements or resolutions and that cases were not viable and then referring the cases to other lawyers, who would represent the clients through settlements or trials, prosecutors said.

If the cases were resolved successfully, the lawyers paid a referral fee between 33% and 40% of the contingency fees and reimbursement for costs incurred by the lawyer’s firm before the cases were referred.

Bottom line: This was a million dollar scheme to defraud a law firm by a member of that same law firm, who had worked there for 38 years and was a named partner.  It doesn’t get much more greedy than that.

Stay safe 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, deceit, dishonesty, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer bad conduct, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer disbarment, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer stealing from law firm, misrepresentations, Uncategorized

ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 492 addresses lawyer’s obligations to prospective clients after obtaining “significantly harmful” information

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent American Bar Association (ABA) Formal Ethics Opinion 492, which addresses the obligations of lawyers to prospective clients, including confidentiality, and conflicts of interest, including potential disqualifying conflicts after the lawyer obtains “significantly harmful” information.  The link to ABA Formal Opinion 492 is here:  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba-formal-opinion-492.pdf

The ABA issued Formal Ethics Opinion 492 on June 9, 2020.  The opinion addresses a lawyer’s obligations to prospective client and discusses who is a “prospective client”, the obligation to protect confidential information, disqualifying conflicts because of the acquisition of “significantly harmful” information, and limiting information during an initial consultation and avoiding the imputation of conflicts to the firm.

“A prospective client is a person who consults a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship. Model Rule 1.18 governs whether the consultation limits the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm from accepting a new client whose interests are materially adverse to the prospective client in a matter that is the same or substantially related to the subject of the consultation, even when no client-lawyer relationship results from the consultation. Under Model Rule 1.18 a lawyer is prohibited from accepting a new matter if the lawyer received information from the prospective client that could be significantly harmful to the prior prospective client in the new matter.

“Model Rule 1.18(b) imposes a duty of confidentiality with respect to information learned during a consultation, even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues. It provides: Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has learned information from a prospective client shall not use or reveal that information, except as Rule 1.9 would permit with respect to information of a former client.”

“Whether information learned by the lawyer could be significantly harmful is a fact-based inquiry depending on a variety of circumstances including the length of the consultation and the nature of the topics discussed. The inquiry does not require the prior prospective client to reveal confidential information. Further, even if the lawyer learned information that could be significantly harmful to the prior prospective client in the new matter, the lawyer’s firm can accept the new matter if the lawyer is screened from the new matter or the prospective client provides informed consent, as set forth in Model Rule 1.18(d)(1) and (2).”

The opinion concludes that a lawyer who receives information from a prospective client that could be “significantly harmful” and then represents a client in the same or a substantially related matter where that client’s interests are materially adverse to those of the prospective client would violate Model Rule 1.18(c) unless the conflict is waived by the prospective client.

Bottom line:  This opinion provides detailed information to assist lawyers in analyzing ethics issues that may arise related to prospective clients when the lawyer obtains “significantly harmful” information and provides guidance on how to identify and address those issues and comply with the lawyer’s ethical obligations.

Stay safe 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under ABA Model Rules, ABA Opinion 492- prospective clients and "significantly harmful" information, Attorney Ethics, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Privilege, Prospective clients conflict of interest, Uncategorized

Washington Supreme Court votes to eliminate the non-lawyer limited license technician (LLLT) program

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Washington Supreme Court vote to eliminate the non-lawyer limited license legal technician (LLLT) program.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Debra L. Stephens, sent a letter on June 5, 2020 to the Washington State Bar Association President and Acting Executive Director, and the Chair of the LLLT Board announcing the decision.

The Washington Supreme Court had approved the creation of this first legal license for nonlawyers in the United States in 2015 and several other states have now implemented, or have considered implementing, similar programs.  Justice Stephens and Justice Barbara A. Madsen, who was the chief justice when the court approved the LLLT program in 2012, dissented from the vote.

The June 5 letter states: “The program was an innovative attempt to increase access to legal services,” Stephens wrote in her letter. “However, after careful consideration of the overall costs of sustaining the program and the small number of interested individuals, a majority of the court determined that the LLLT program is not an effective way to meet these needs and voted to sunset the program.”

The first LLLTs were licensed in 2015; however, there are less than 40 active technicians.  The Washington State Bar also reported in May 2020 that the direct and indirect costs for administering the licensing program had exceeded revenues by nearly $1.4 million.  The Board of the State Bar also asked the Court in May 2020 to consider the possible sunsetting of the program, and the Court’s order approving the LLLT program had stated an expectation it would be self-sustaining.

A business plan submitted to the Court by the LLLT Board indicated the program could potentially generate enough revenue to cover the Bar’s direct expenses for administering the program by 2022 and cover all costs by 2029.  That plan was contingent on the Court approving new practice areas to include in the program (which was contemplated when the program was created) and reducing some of the requirements to become a LLLT. The Chief Justice’s letter stated that the LLLT board’s proposed practice areas expansion and rules revisions were not approved by the Court.

In a written dissent, Justice Madsen called the financial criticism of the LLLT program “hollow” and said that the Court’s decision will result in the “elimination of an independent legal license.”  She also stated that this had occurred without “a single meeting, without question or comment from LLLT license holders, legal practitioners, or the public at large,” “What took over a decade of toil to create, this court erased in an afternoon.”  “In no other professional area would a regulated license be so summarily erased with so little thought given to those who will be most affected.”

The Chief Justice’s June 5 letter states that:

Current legal technicians in good standing may continue to be licensed and may continue to provide services. Individuals already in the pipeline as of June 4, 2020, who can complete all the requirements to be licensed as a LLLT by July 31, 2021, may do so. No new LLLTs will be admitted after that date.

Bottom line:  This decision by the Washington Supreme Court is somewhat surprising, particularly since other states have now implemented (or are considering implementation of) non-lawyer limited practice programs, including Florida.  It appears that the lack of interest (only 40 participants) and the $1.4 million deficit were the primary reasons for the Court’s decision to eliminate the program.

Stay safe and healthy 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under Limited Practice of Law, Non-lawyer limited practice, Non-lawyer limited practice of law, Non-lawyer practice, Uncategorized, Washington Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program, Washington state LLLT program sunset and elimination of program

U.S. Supreme Court denies certiorari review of challenge to Wisconsin Bar’s mandatory bar dues

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent U.S. Supreme Court Order denying certiorari review of the challenge to mandatory bar dues in Wisconsin; however, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent, which was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch.  The case is:  Adam Jarchow, et al. v. State Bar of Wisconsin, et al., No. 19–831, 590 U. S. ____ (2020 June 1, 2020)  The summary Orders and dissent are here:  https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/060120zor_g3bi.pdf

The federal lawsuit was filed by two Wisconsin lawyers who argued that requiring lawyers to join the state’s bar and pay dues violates the First Amendment.  The U.S. Supreme Court previously decided Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which ruled that government employees who are represented by a union but do not belong to that union cannot be required to pay a fee to cover the costs of contract negotiations. The decision in Janus overturned the Court’s earlier decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

The two lawyers, Adam Jarchow and Michael Dean, who are both licensed to practice in Wisconsin, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Wisconsin stating that they disagreed with the Wisconsin bar’s advocacy on issues such as the death penalty, immigration, the free exercise of religion, and campaign finance and; therefore, the Supreme Court’s Janus decision supported the abolishment of mandatory bar membership and dues. The lower courts denied the claim stating that only the Supreme Court can overturn its previous cases. The lawyers then filed the petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

The review was denied; however, Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the denial and stated that the Court’s decision to overrule Abood “casts significant doubt on” the court’s prior ruling involving bar dues (Keller v. State Bar of Cal.) and the Court “should reexamine whether” Keller “is sound precedent”.  “Petitioners’ First Amendment challenge to Wisconsin’s integrated bar arrangement is foreclosed by Keller v. State Bar of Cal., 496 U. S. 1 (1990), which this petition asks us to revisit. I would grant certiorari to address this important question..”

Bottom line:  The Supreme Court denied review in this case; however, the apparent inconsistency between the Court’s decision in Janus to overturn Abood and mandatory bar dues remains.

Stay safe and healthy 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under Lawyer Bar dues, Mandatory Bar dues and fees, U.S. Supreme Court, Uncategorized

Two Texas lawyers arrested on conspiracy to commit murder charges in alleged plot to kill another lawyer

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent arrest of two lawyers in Waco, Texas, on charges of felony conspiracy to commit capital murder in an alleged plot to kill another attorney.

According to media reports, the lawyers include a well-known criminal defense lawyer in Waco, Texas and an associate lawyer who works at his firm.  The lawyers allegedly tried to hire a contract killer to carry the murder of the associate’s  former husband, who is also a lawyer.  The former husband was arrested in February 2020 and charged with improper sexual contact with a 10-year-old female family member in December 2019.

The alleged contract killer was actually an undercover police officer, who apparently infiltrated the motorcycle club in which the criminal defense lawyer was a founder and president.  The law enforcement arrest affidavit allege that the criminal defense lawyer solicited the undercover officer to kill the former husband on May 14, 2020 and allegedly offered the officer $300.00 to buy a gun and stated he would help him leave town after the killing.

On May 21, 2020, the lawyers allegedly met with the undercover officer, instructed him to kill the former husband at his home, and gave him the $300.00 to buy the gun.  The arrest affidavits do not specify how much the lawyers offered to pay for the contract killing or why they wanted him killed. The lawyers were released from jail after each posting $1 million bonds.

Bottom line:  This is another very bizarre story involving lawyers.  These lawyers apparently decided to hire a contract killer to murder the former husband, who is accused of improper sexual contact with a 10-year-old female family member, instead of allowing the judicial system to run its course.

Stay safe and healthy 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer bad conduct, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer criminal misconduct murder for hire, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Uncategorized

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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Filed under ABA Formal Opinion 479 former client confidentiality, Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, attorney-client privilege, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidences and negative online client review, Confidentiality, Confidentiality and privilege, dishonesty, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer communication over internet- confidentiality, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer derogatory remarks, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics responding to negative online review complaint confidentiality, Lawyer false statements, Lawyer negative Yelp review of client- confidentiality, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyers and social media, misrepresentations, Uncategorized

ABA Formal Opinion 491 discusses a lawyer’s obligation to avoid counseling or assisting a client in a crime or fraud

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss recent ABA  Formal Opinion 491 (issued 4/29/20), which discusses and provides guidance regarding a lawyer’s obligation to avoid counseling or assisting in crime or fraud in non-litigation settings.  The opinion is here:  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba-formal-opinion-491.pdf

The opinion states:  “ABA Model Rule 1.2(d) prohibits a lawyer from advising or assisting a client in a transaction or other non-litigation matter the lawyer ‘knows’ is criminal or fraudulent. That knowledge may be inferred from the circumstances, including a lawyer’s willful blindness or conscious disregard of available facts.”

“Even if information learned in the course of a preliminary interview or during a representation is insufficient to establish ‘knowledge’ under Rule 1.2(d), other rules may require further inquiry to help the client avoid crime or fraud, to advance the client’s legitimate interests, and to avoid professional misconduct. These include the duties of competence, diligence, communication, and honesty under Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.13, 1.16, and 8.4.”

“A lawyer’s reasonable evaluation after that inquiry based on information reasonably available at the time does not violate the rules. A lawyer’s reasonable evaluation after inquiry and based on information reasonably available at the time does not violate the rules. This opinion does not address the application of these rules in the representation of a client or prospective client who requests legal services in connection with litigation.”

The opinion concludes that: “where there is a high probability that a client seeks to use the lawyer’s services for criminal or fraudulent activity, the lawyer must inquire further to avoid advising or assisting such activity” and “(i)f the client or prospective client refuses to provide information necessary to assess the legality of the proposed transaction, the lawyer must ordinarily decline the representation or withdraw under Rule 1.16.”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion states that, in order to comply with the lawyer’s obligations under ABA Rule 1.2(d) (which is substantial similar to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.2(d), if there is “a high probability that a client seeks to use the lawyer’s services for criminal or fraudulent activity”, the lawyer cannot engage in “willful blindness or conscious disregard of available facts” and the lawyer “must inquire further to avoid advising or assisting such activity.

Stay safe and healthy 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

 

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

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Filed under ABA Formal Opinion 491- avoiding counseling or assisting criminal conduct, ABA formal opinions, ABA Model Rules, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Uncategorized

Florida lawyer CLE reporting deadlines for March, April, May, June, and July 2020 extended to August 31, 2020

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent decision The Florida Bar’s BOG to further extend the February, March, April, May, June, and July 2020 Continuing Legal Education (CLE) reporting deadlines for Florida lawyers to August 31, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Florida Bar News article is here:  https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/428150/

The reporting deadline extension was already in place for those lawyers who were required to report in February, March, April, and May 2020 and has now been expanded to those lawyers with deadlines in June and July 2020.

Many (if not all) upcoming in-person CLE programs have been canceled and the processing and shipping of orders for Bar CLE CDs and CLE DVDs have suspended; however, The Florida Bar’s on-demand CLE remains available and the link to those CLE programs is here:  https://tfb.inreachce.com/

In addition, The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center (LegalFuel) offers 90 free CLE programs online with 119.5 hours of general CLE credit.  Those CLE programs include 5 hours of ethics, 71 hours of technology, 8 hours of mental-health awareness, and 5 certification credits. The link to those programs is here: www.legalfuel.com/free-cle.

Bottom line: In another move caused by the pandemic, The Florida Bar has extended the deadlines for reporting CLE to August 31, 2020.  As I also previously reported, as a result of the pandemic, the Florida Supreme Court issued an Order on March 20, 2020 (amended April 9, 2020) suspending all time periods and deadlines for the following:

  1. Chapter 3 (Rules of Discipline), the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar for all Florida Bar discipline cases,
  2. Chapter 10 (UPL) for all unlicensed practice of law cases, and the filing and
  3. Lawyer advertisement evaluation requirements under Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-7.19 (Evaluation of Advertisements).

The link to the April 9, 2020 amended Order is here:  https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/633617/7199394/file/sc20-392.pdf

Stay safe and healthy 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 Florida Bar, Florida Bar CLE deadlines, Florida Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Uncategorized

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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Filed under and fraud, Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Client with diminished capacity, deceit, dishonesty, Excessive fee, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer conflict of interest, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer discipline false client billings, Lawyer discipline for criminalconviction, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer excessive fee, Lawyer excessive fees, lawyer false billing, lawyer felony suspension, Lawyer improper fees, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer sanctions, Lawyer unreasonable fee, Lawyers false billings discipline, misrepresentations, Ohio felony suspension, Ohio indefinite suspension theft from client, Uncategorized