Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bay State Lawyer Gets Bar Boot For Pilfering A Lousy $13K Held In Escrow On Behalf Of Client; Denies He Meant To Actual Steal The Loot, But Unsuspecting Victim Yet To Receive Reimbursement Of Filched Funds

In Winchendon, Massachusetts, the Worcester Telegram reports:
  • A Winchendon lawyer was disbarred after acknowledging that he misused $13,352 of funds held in escrow in connection with a bankruptcy case for his personal or business purposes.(1)

    On Dec. 19, Laird James Heal of 8 Linden St., Winchendon, filed an amended affidavit of resignation with the Supreme Judicial Court, with a recommendation that the affidavit be accepted and an order of disbarment entered.

    In his amended affidavit, Mr. Heal acknowledged that he willfully or intentionally misused $13,352 of funds held in escrow in connection with a bankruptcy case for his personal or business purposes by withdrawing the funds from his Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts without prior notice to the client or to the court.

    Mr. Heal admitted that he made these withdrawals knowingly, without accident or mistake, from August 2011 to August 2012, while the bankruptcy case was pending.

    In his affidavit, Mr. Heal denied he had any intent to deprive the client of the funds but admitted his misuse was intentional and deprivation resulted and is continuing.(2)

    On Dec. 22, the Board of Bar Overseers entered a judgment accepting the affidavit of resignation and entered an order of disbarment effective Sept. 9, 2015, the date of Mr. Heal's disability inactive status, and the lawyer's name is forthwith stricken from the roll of attorney.
Source: Winchendon lawyer disbarred for misuse of funds.
(1) 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 (although Professor Miller's essay is over a quarter-century old, it sure as hell appears that his observations maintain their vitality to this day):
  • 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.
(2) The Clients' Security Fund of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was created to help compensate members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the Massachusetts bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

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.