Sunday, July 31, 2011

How not to practice law: use client's money to shop at Walmart and then claim misconduct is due to "poor bookkeeping"

In a recent decision called Grievance Administrator v. Trott (available here), the State of Michigan Disciplinary Board disbarred an attorney for mishandling client's funds.  Among other things, the attorney used money from his client's trust account to pay personal expenses at stores and to pay for his utility bills. 

It is not unusual for attorneys caught commingling and misappropriating money to claim the misconduct is due to carelessness rather than intent and to claim the problem is in their "poor bookkeeping", which, of course, they promise to improve in the future. 

The court in this case, suggested the attorney had the good sense not to make that stupid claim and added that
"[a]ttempts to blame misuse of client funds on poor bookkeeping practices seldom make any sense. With respect to the handling of trust funds, "poor bookkeeping" is often actually a refusal to assign priority to the lawyer's role as a fiduciary. The public is asked to trust lawyers with their confidences, their liberty, and their fortunes. The public is also asked to trust lawyers as repositories of funds. The duty to keep client and third party funds safe and separate from lawyer funds is a fundamental one."
For more on this case go to the Legal Profession blog here.

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