Sunday, June 05, 2016

Bank Tips Off Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission On Suspicious Account Activity, Leads To Bar Boot For Long-Time Attorney; 40+ Year Career Ends Despite Repaying $280K+ In Misappropriated Client Trust Fund Cash, But Returning Loot May Save Him From Criminal Charges

In Arbutus, Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reports:
  • Seven judges in the Court of Appeals of Maryland voted last month to disbar an Arbutus lawyer who spent more than 40 years practicing law, after he misappropriated $281,651 from a trust fund he was responsible for.(1)

    Bruce A. Kent issued loans using funds of the trust and transferred money to his son-in-law, according to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, a state agency. He also withdrew cash and wrote checks to himself from the account.

    The trust was established for John and Sally McClelland's adult children, according to Deputy Bar Counsel Raymond Hein.

    First Mariner Bank reported the suspicious activity in August 2013.

    "They really knew very little about what was in the trust and did not really question any of this," Hein said. "It came to our attention because the bank, First Mariner Bank, reported it to us."

    The misappropriation was carried out between October 2010 and September 2013. The Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland first filed an action against Kent on April 22, 2015.

    Kent ultimately repaid the missing funds, Hein said.

    In April he was found to have violated 10 parts of the Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct, including committing a "criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects," according to the Attorney Grievance Commission's opinion.

    No criminal charges have been filed against Kent, according to Maryland's Judiciary Case Search. Kent did not return voicemails left at his office.
For the story, see Longtime Arbutus lawyer Kent disbarred for misusing trust fund (Arbutus lawyer disbarred for misusing $280K from trust fund).

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 Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland (formerly "The Clients' Security Trust Fund"), was created in 1965 for the purpose of maintaining the integrity and protecting the good name of the legal profession. The Fund, supported financially by practicing attorneys, reimburses claimants for losses caused by theft of funds by members of the Maryland Bar, acting either as attorneys or as fiduciaries.

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.