Monday, February 29, 2016

Add One More Lawyer To List Of Those 'Seeking Employment' At Prison Law Library; Connecticut Attorney Gets Two Years For Bilking Victim Seeking Foreclosure Help Out Of $113K; Continued To Bill Thousand$ For Services While Stealing From Same Client; Judge: "He Has Driven Respect For The Profession To Another Low!"

In Litchfield, Connecticut, the Republican-American reports:
  • A New Milford attorney who bilked clients out of $113,000 was sentenced [] in Superior Court to two years in prison.

    Donald Wharton, 54, said he needed the money to pay bills after the real estate market "tanked," and he was left with four or five mortgage closings a year instead of two or three a week. But on Friday, he seemed resigned to time behind bars; he hardly seemed eager to avoid it by actions or words.

    Senior Assistant State's Attorney David Shannon said the real estate lawyer's failure to pay any restitution, and his lack of employment or remorse made it impossible to recommend anything but a prison term. Judge John A. Danaher agreed, and admonished Wharton for sending a message about the legal profession "that cannot be tolerated" by sentencing him to 10 years, suspended after two years, and five years of probation to pay restitution.

    "I wanted to give the defendant the opportunity to earn a suspended sentence even though he should be held to a higher standard," Shannon said. "He was given every opportunity to pay restitution."

    Wharton admitted that he stole money from Domenico Spano of New Milford that was intended to pay off foreclosure costs and fees. In exchange for his guilty plea to first-degree larceny, he accepted a plea deal which gave him the right to argue for as little as no time in prison but exposed him to up to two and a half years.

    On Friday, he apologized for what he did, telling Danaher his "reaction" to getting caught was his remorse.

    ON SEPT. 3, 2014, police say Wharton attempted suicide after he met with his clients and they demanded their money back.

    A police K-9 tracked Wharton to a wooded area behind his home. He was barely breathing and unresponsive. A bag of pills and a pistol were within arm's reach, police said. He was revived and treated at New Milford Hospital before being released and arrested by warrant.

    "It was a betrayal of the oath I took in this very room," said Wharton, a short man with glasses who wore an oversized gray suit and was ready for prison with a bag of belongings. "I have dishonored my profession. I violated a code of ethics. Now I have to suffer the consequences."

    Danaher pointed to the rear of the courtroom, to two doors constructed in the late 1800s to accommodate the public through one and members of the Bar Association through another.

    "Attorneys were held in the highest regard," he said. "Courthouses aren't built like that any more. He has driven respect for the profession to another low."

    A SEARCH of Wharton's bank accounts revealed he had deposited a check for $83,341 — the exact amount of Spano's check — into a Union Savings Bank account on April 9, 2013. There also were three cash deposits, which police allege could have been drawn from a $30,000 cash payment Wharton received from Spano on April 3, 2013.

    By Sept. 3, 2014, the balance on the account was just $33.95, according to court documents

    It was particularly callous of Wharton to bill thousands of dollars for his services while he was stealing from the same client, said Danaher, who also noted that Wharton didn't seem to pursue employment to pay off even a portion of the money he owed.

    Spano, meanwhile, needed to borrow to make up for the loss, their attorney Chris McCarthy said. None of the missing funds have been paid back but McCarthy said he can now pursue civil action to get it back.

    "A message needs to be sent and it needs to be significant that this should not happen to hard working people who entrust lawyers," said McCarthy, who asked for a two-year term and restitution.
Source: New Milford lawyer to spend 2 years in prison for bilking clients.

See, generally, Frederick Miller, "If You Can't Trust Your Lawyer .... ?", 138 Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Rev. 785 (1990) for more on the apparent, long-standing tolerance for deceit by many in the legal profession:
  • This tolerance to deception is encouraged by the profession's institutional civility. Seldom is a fig called a fig, or a shyster a shyster. No, our euphemisms are wonderfully polite: "frivolous conduct," or a "lack of candor;" or "law-office failure;" or, heaven forbid, a "peculation," a "defalcation," or a "negative balance" in a law firms's trust account.

    There is also widespread reluctance on the part of lawyers --- again, some lawyers --- to discuss publicly, much less acknowledge, that they have colleagues who engage in deceit and unprofessional conduct.

    This reluctance is magnified when the brand of deceit involves the theft of client money and property, notwithstanding that most lawyers would agree that stealing from clients is the ultimate ethical transgression.
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(1) The Client Security Fund is a fund established by the rules of the Connecticut Superior Court to provide reimbursement to individuals who have lost money or property as a result of the dishonest conduct of an attorney practicing law in the State of Connecticut, in the course of the attorney-client relationship. The fund provides a remedy for clients who are unable to obtain reimbursement for their loss from any other source.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

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