It isn’t often in my research that I come across something that I find truly hard to believe. But, while researching an article for a law firm that represents attorneys facing disciplinary action for ethics violations, I found one recent case that would put even the most imaginative script writers to shame. In this article , I discuss a case in which an attorney gets disbarred for among many, many other things, falsely telling his opposing counsel that he was, “in a hospital room watching a loved one die of cancer.”
“The seriousness, scope, and sheer brazenness of Respondent’s misconduct is [sic] outrageous.”
While researching an article for a firm that represents attorneys facing disciplinary actions, I came across a state supreme court opinion that I have to believe (and hope) reflects one of the most egregious attorney misconduct cases in history. The opinion is dated December 1, 2015, and reflects the actions of an attorney who had been admitted to practice in the state since 2003.
“Theft of client funds, retaliatory disclosures of clients’ confidential information, pervasive dishonesty, and a pattern of conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”
Some attorneys intentionally violate their ethical duties. There is no doubt about that. From greed to self-preservation to outright laziness, there are, unfortunately, countless reasons why some attorneys may at times choose to put their interests before those of their clients.
In other cases, however, in reading ethics opinions it is clear that the attorneys facing discipline have made honest mistakes. This does not excuse their transgressions – particularly when their clients or others suffer as a result – but at least you can see some measure of justification that leads you to a feel a stitch of sympathy for the attorney’s circumstances.
This is not one of those cases.
“I think [I] only told you like 4.5 hours right? Well f*** that . . . add another 1.5 hours to that line ok?”
I am not going to name the lawyer or link to the opinion, even though it is publicly available. The attorney’s name is not important to the story, and it is clear that he is already facing the consequences of his actions. However, the severity and volume of his inappropriate and inexplicable conduct are so egregious that they bear confession to attorneys and clients alike. These are not made-up facts from a movie script. These are real-life events that affected real-life people who needed help with their legal issues.
The misconduct, as admitted by the attorney in question and relayed by the state supreme court, included the following:
- Misappropriating approximately $150,000 of clients’ funds from the attorney’s trust account.
- Collecting $2,500 to $3,500 nonrefundable retainer fees from new clients, with “vigorous” enforcement of the no-refunds policy.
- Instructing staff members to inflate billable hours in order to deplete clients’ trust deposits, and using false billings to retaliate against clients who requested refunds or “got crosswise” with the attorney.
- Firing and threatening to fire staff members who questioned the attorney’s practices.
- Instructing staff members to “lie to all comers” about his whereabouts and other matters.
- Falsely telling opposing counsel in a matter that he was, “in a hospital room watching a loved one die of cancer,” and falsely telling a client that he was unavailable for a meeting due to the death of his dog.
- Paying clients to write favorable reviews on Avvo.com.
- Disclosing clients’ confidential information when they published negative reviews, and disclosing one former client’s confidential information by mistake when a different client wrote a negative review.
- Recording conversations with clients and potential clients “for [his] own personal amusement,” and then openly mocking clients and prospects on the recordings.
But wait, there’s more.
“You think lawyers want someone in their office who tried to get their last boss disbarred?”
The attorney’s conduct came to light when his office manager reported his conduct to the state supreme court’s disciplinary commission. The attorney promptly fired his office manager while brandishing a handgun, and then began sending threatening and disparaging emails and texts to the office manager.
The attorney also falsely accused the office manager of having sex with a client in the office and posting disparaging comments about the gay community on the firm’s website (even though the office manager was apparently openly gay). When the attorney found out that an associate had witnessed the firing, he instructed the associate not to tell the commission that he had brandished the handgun.
“I simply cannot tell you how tired [I] am of these people.”
In reciting the facts of the case, the state supreme court quoted some of the emails and text messages that the office manager provided during the course of the disciplinary commission’s investigation:
In an email to his office manager regarding a client’s request to split the cost of a transcript –
“I simply cannot tell you how tired [I] am of these people. . . . You added a line to her January bill right? A line that said, ‘emails and phone calls to and from client, prepare for hearing,’ right? How much time did we put down for that? I think [I] only told you like 4.5 hours right? Well f*** that. . . add another 1.5 hours to that line ok?”
In an email to his office manager regarding clients’ requests for refunds –
“[T]here is no giving back money unless we really  have to. . . I don’t write checks to my clients[,] the other way around. . . . Would you believe that [the prior office manager] used to f***ing argue with me about it. Argue that we should give these people their money back, ALL their money. The money [I] use to pay their salaries. . . . One of many reasons [I] fired [him].”
In a message to his office manager after firing him for reporting his conduct to the commission –
“No one will ever hire you if [I] get disbarred for something you told them. You think lawyers want someone in their office who tried to get their last boss disbarred?”
In another message to his office manager –
“So is this the part where [I] say I’ll meet you on the playground and we can settle it like men?”
“There can be no doubt in these circumstances that . . . Respondent’s privilege to practice law should be permanently revoked.”
In total, the commission found that the attorney had violated 16 different sections of the state bar’s rules of professional conduct. Most, if not all, of these involved numerous repeat violations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the attorney received a lifetime ban from the practice of law.
I don’t even practice anymore, and I feel like I need to apologize on behalf of the profession. I didn’t think I would come across an attorney that put the likes of Saul Goodman (the ultimate “criminal lawyer”) to shame. If you are an attorney, I trust that you find this all as shocking as I do. Are you aware of a worse case of professional misconduct? If so, I shudder at the thought.