Disbarred Lawyer Cops Guilty Plea To Looting Dead Client's Estate; Defendant Pays His Way Out Of Hard Prison Time, Instead Gets 12 Months In County Jail, Two Years Probation After Cutting Check To Victims For $43K+ In Full Reimbursement Of Pilfered Proceeds
- A former Woodsville attorney pleaded guilty  to pocketing nearly $44,000 that should have been paid to the estate of a Haverhill resident.(1)
Gary J. Wood, 63, was sentenced to one year in the Grafton County jail in connection with the felony-level theft by misappropriation charge.
Upon release, he will be put on probation for two years.
Wood already has reimbursed the stolen funds by issuing a check for $43,927 to the estate of Haverhill farmer Irving W. Thayer in the name of its executor, Alan Rutherford. Thayer died in 2014. The money will be disbursed among 11 of Thayer’s relatives, including his niece Irene Fournier.(2)
“I am very happy that we all will be receiving our money,” Fournier said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I just don’t understand why people do the things they do. I realize it is the way of the world, but it is a hard pill to swallow when it hits you in your backyard.”
Rutherford, a Haverhill real estate appraiser and registered tax preparer, said on Wednesday there are a couple of legal steps that need to be cleared before he could distribute the money among Thayer’s relatives.
If everything goes as planned, they should receive their money within a couple of weeks, he said.
Rutherford said he felt the outcome of the case was appropriate. “The family got their money,” Rutherford said. “That was the ultimate goal.”
Grafton County Attorney Jack Bell, who prosecuted the case, agreed.
“Given the fact that Mr. Wood made the victims whole immediately, that he had no prior criminal record and was cooperative with both the investigation by the New Hampshire Bar (Association) and the police and admitted his guilt, I thought it was appropriate,” Bell said.
Once Wood is released from jail and put on probation, he won’t be allowed to drink alcohol and will have to undergo a substance abuse evaluation, according to court documents.
A message left for Wood’s public defender, Constantine Hutchins, wasn’t returned.
Wood was disbarred from practicing over the summer, and would need to petition in order to have his license reinstated.
At Rutherford’s request, Wood deposited the estate money into his own attorney trust account, according to the January 2015 indictment.
The attorney was supposed to later return the money to Thayer’s estate, but failed to do so. He instead treated the “funds as his own,” the indictment said.
- 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.
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:
- Directory Of Lawyers' Funds For Client Protection (August 2016) (includes Canadian recovery funds, courtesy of the American Bar Association);
- Check the USA Client Protection Funds Map;
- Check the Canada Client Protection Funds Map.