The Legal Profession Blog reports today that an Illinois hearing board concluded that a lawyer's license should be "monitored rather than revoked" in a case where the attorney stole money from his firm and then lied about it to the firm and during the disciplinary procedure. The attorney's explanation of the misconduct was that "we were behind on our bills and our house payment, and I just made a bad choice . . . That's why I did it."
So let me get this straight.... the guy is behind in his bills so he steals money from his firm; he admits to it and the board just gives him a two year suspension stayed after nine months with two years of probation. That's a gift to him and a bad example to the rest of us. I've said this before. I have no patience for people who steal money. He should have been disbarred on the spot. Period; end of story. How can you possible conclude that the lawyer "knowingly and intentionally . . . committed conversion" and then not disbar him?
Here is what the board said: "The misconduct committed by the Respondent was extremely serious. He intentionally converted funds belonging to the law firm where he was an associate attorney. Instead of turning over to the law firm, as he was required to do, certain funds he received in fees the Respondent deposited such funds into his own account and used the funds for his own purposes. The Supreme Court has stated that intentional conversion involves "moral turpitude," is a "grievous departure from an attorney's ethical obligations," and "places the entire legal profession in disrepute." [citations] The Court has also made it clear that every attorney, experienced or inexperienced, should understand the wrongfulness of taking funds belonging to another. [citations] Moreover, the Respondent was charged with and admitted twenty-one separate conversions of client fees belonging to the law firm during a one-year period. Thus, the seriousness of the Respondent's misconduct is enhanced because he engaged in a pattern of conversions."
The Board then went through a number of "aggravating circumstances" including the fact that he submitted false information to the law firm in order to carry out and conceal his scheme of converting the fees he received from the clients, that the testimony disclosed more conversions than those discussed in the disciplinary complaint and that he lied in his testimony before the board.
How can you possibly not recommend to disbar this guy?! Shame on the board. What message does this send? Go ahead and steal and lie about it; don't worry, we won't really be too hard on you as long as you have a good excuse. And we wonder why people hold lawyers and our disciplinary system in low esteem!
The opinion can be found here.