Sunday, June 05, 2016

Chicago DA Bags Now-Disbarred Attorney (& Part-Time Comedian) On 36 Felony Charges That He Swindled Over $1.1 Million From Nearly A Dozen Clients; $600K In Payouts From Client Protection Program Provides Partial Loss Recovery For Unwitting Victims

In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports:
  • When clients came to his Loop offices, personal injury lawyer Jordan Margolis sometimes liked to point out the self-published book he kept on his coffee table featuring "Excuseman," a comic character he developed.

    Margolis had big hopes for Excuseman. He even took the character on the road, telling corny jokes in his superhero costume — a shiny blue body suit with the letters XQ over his chest, an orange skullcap and cape and a purple bandit mask, his paunch hanging slightly over his Excuseman belt. He skewered those who "mess up and don't fess up."
    But now it is Excuseman who is in a bad jam.

    Last week, Cook County prosecutors indicted Margolis, 61, on charges he stole more than $1.1 million from nearly a dozen clients — in part to pay expenses connected to Excuseman. The indictment charged him with 36 felony counts of theft, theft by deception, misappropriation of financial institution property, continuing a financial crimes enterprise and forgery, according to Assistant State's Attorney Joel Bruckman.
    At a disciplinary hearing over his law license, Margolis' lawyer didn't dispute that Margolis took the money, saying he did so to keep his law practice going after a massive potential class-action lawsuit he was handling on behalf of firefighters from across the country stalled, records show.
    Clients who had been impressed by his connections and upscale Loop offices with a large saltwater aquarium out front and art on the walls suddenly found they couldn't reach Margolis. Some complained to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, the state agency that investigates allegations of wrongdoing against lawyers.

    The agency filed disciplinary charges against Margolis, but he chose not to fight them, moving to California instead. His law license was suspended in 2013, then formally revoked last year.

    For a time, employees continued to run his law firm — unaware of his disbarment or that the law firm had closed, according to prosecutors.

    James Grogan, the ARDC's deputy administrator and chief counsel, said he uses the Margolis case as a warning to lawyers attending mandatory ethics classes. "You're converting all this money from clients and you're Excuseman?" Grogan said.

    An ARDC insurance fund has paid out about $600,000 to the alleged victims, [...]. But the fund has a cap of $100,000 for each victim.(1) A few have sued Margolis but collected pennies on the dollar after attorneys' fees, according to court records.
For the story, see Lawyer with comic ambitions as 'Excuseman' charged with thefts from 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. [...] 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 Program of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) was established by the Supreme Court of Illinois to provide reimbursement to clients who have lost money or property because of dishonest conduct by lawyers admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois. The Program reimburses clients who cannot get reimbursement from the lawyers who caused their losses, or from other sources such as insurance. (But see Stolen Inheritances: I-Team lawyer warning, in which one Illinois victim said of the program, "Their rules are vague, ambiguous and they are applied at their own discretion, and you can't get a straight answer[.]")

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.

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