Attorneys That Steal Their Clients’ Money
While the majority of attorneys are scrupulously honest, there are still those bad apples who bill for frivolous research; pad their clients’ bills with outright phony charges; and then there are those who actually steal the money that they are entrusted with. Seriously injured clients entitled to large settlements are not the only ones who end up bilked. Very often, medical providers offer their services under what is called a “letter of protection,” allowing patients to receive treatment while litigation is ongoing. The providers are then paid out of the proceeds at settlement. When the money is stolen, the medical bills that were supposed to be paid out of the settlement can even become the responsibility of patients who often sign documents at the provider’s office stating they agree to be personally responsible for the bill regardless of the outcome of the case.
It Happens All Over the Country
In 2003, Florida attorney, Louis Robles, was disbarred after being convicted of misappropriating $13.5 million in settlement funds from asbestos clients. Robles filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.
Former attorney, Steven Krell, was arrested in Los Angeles, CA in October 2006 on a felony complaint charging him with embezzling $1.4 million dollars from 2 clients, before he resigned from his job of managing trust accounts.
An Auburn New York attorney, Lisa Blair, was arrested in December 2006. She stands accused of committing larceny by embezzling funds from her attorney trust account. She also issued two bad checks from her trust account, in the approximate aggregate amount of $17,000.00, knowing they would bounce.
Houston attorney, Edward Bearman, allegedly stole settlement monies from at least 15 clients in the approximate amount of $750,000.00. Arrested in December 2006 and charged with misapplication of fiduciary duty, the personal injury lawyer was freed on a $75,000 bond and ordered to wear an electronic ankle monitor. Hence, hiring professional and reliable lawyers like accident lawyer in Baltimore is really crucial for you to have a stress free case.
Why They Do It
Alcoholism, drugs, gambling, financing a lavish lifestyle and schemes to escape a high pressure life and abscond with enough money to retire comfortably somewhere beyond the reach of the law are just some of the reasons that lawyers, as well as people in other professions, steal money that pass into their hands as an agent.
Some attorneys, whose lives have already gone out of control in some other way, are simply unable to resist the temptation to take money from trust accounts to temporarily keep the wolves at bay. Others are just renegades who have always had questionable ethics. They successfully stall their clients off for a period of time, and then stop taking their calls altogether when the situation spirals to the point where the money cannot be replaced.
State Bar Association Remedies
State bar associations impose strict regulations upon attorneys with regard to trust accounts, and also collect fees from all lawyers to contribute to a fund that covers losses clients incur as a result of these misappropriations. Information about these funds can be obtained on your local bar association’s website or by calling the bar association directly. Unfortunately for clients who have been cheated out of 6-figure settlements, there is a cap on the amount of recovery, and these amounts vary greatly from state to state. In Texas, for example, the cap is $30,000 per individual. In Idaho, it is $15,000.00. While that is at least something, if a client’s case was settled for $250,000.00, it is still a mere pittance, even when compared against the standard legal fees the attorney would have collected by distributing the money honestly. Furthermore, these funds are only available to clients who have been victims of dishonesty and fraud. It is not intended to cover malpractice situations.
Also, as the 4,000 asbestos clients in the 2003 Florida case recently found out when their case was thrown out by a District Court judge, if you do not follow the correct procedures outlined by the state you are seeking relief from, your case will be denied.
There really is no surefire way to protect yourself against this type of crime. While you may check an attorney’s record to make sure no disciplinary action has ever been filed against him or her in the past, that’s no guarantee that circumstances can’t occur which will lead an attorney to steal. Dealing with larger firms with excellent longstanding reputations is the way to go if you have suffered serious compensable injuries. In real estate transactions, you may use your title company as the escrow agent instead of your attorney. If you or anyone you know has an attorney who suddenly stops returning your phone calls and no staff is available to help you, go to the attorney’s office to find out what is going on. If you still cannot get satisfactory answers or find that he shut his practice down, contact the District Attorney and State Bar Association immediately.