Sunday, May 29, 2016

NC Bar Gives Sticky-Fingered Attorney His Walking Papers For Filching Clients Of Nearly $110K Of Trust Account Funds For His Personal Use

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Winston-Salem Journal reports:
  • Winston-Salem attorney Devin Ferree Thomas, a personal-injury attorney with offices in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Raleigh, has been disbarred by the N.C. State Bar.
    According to a March 18 bar filing, Thomas was disbarred for having committed a criminal act, specifically embezzlement. Thomas was accused of transferring at least $109,500 from clients that had been placed in attorney trust accounts to two personal accounts from Oct. 28, 2014, through Feb. 20, 2015.

    The bar said Thomas used some of those funds for personal expenditures. That included making monthly rental payments for his residence in Winston Factory Loft Apartments.

    Thomas was given 30 days to cooperate with the bar in terms of giving clients their files and funds.(1)
Source: Winston-Salem personal-injury attorney disbarred by N.C. State Bar.

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.[...] The fact is, however, that theft of client property is not an insignificant or isolated problem within the legal profession. Indeed, it is a hounding phenomenon nationwide, and probably the principal reason why most lawyers nationwide are disbarred from the practice of law.
(1) The Client Security Fund was established by the North Carolina Supreme Court and is administered by a board of trustees appointed by the North Carolina State Bar Council. Its purpose is to reimburse, in whole or in part in appropriate cases and subject to the provisions and limitations of the Supreme Court's orders and State Bar rules, clients who have suffered financial loss as the result of dishonest conduct of lawyers engaged in the private practice of law in North Carolina. The fund does not reimburse otherwise reimbursable losses sustained by any one applicant as a result of dishonest conduct of one attorney in an amount exceeding $100,000.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover 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.