Sunday, January 15, 2017

Kansas Supremes Repudiate 'No Harm, No Foul' Defense In Giving (Another) Aging Attorney The Bar Boot For Improperly Helping Himself To Clients' (ie. Dementia Victim, Widow) Cash; Court: Lawyer's Payment Of Restitution For Illegally Converted Loot Is No Factor In Throwing The Book At Him

In Topeka, Kansas, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports:
  • Bruce C. Harrington, a Kansas lawyer for 48 years, was disbarred from practice [] based on his handling of estates of two clients, the Kansas Supreme Court said.

    In a 28-page decision, the Supreme Court unanimously disbarred Harrington, saying he “violated his duties to his clients, to the legal system, to the profession, and to the public.”

    The violations “caused actual injury to his clients, the legal system and the profession,” the Supreme Court decision said.

    The ruling said Harrington, a Topeka lawyer, over a number of years had written himself checks on the checking account of one client and spent more than $25,000 from a second client’s estate, the document said.

    In the first case, Harrington used his durable power of attorney to write a series of checks totaling $30,946 on the account of a woman suffering dementia, the disciplinary document said. Another attorney representing the client’s estate and Harrington negotiated a settlement in which Harrington returned $10,000.

    In the second case, Harrington redeemed $53,484 worth of U.S. Savings Bonds from a client’s estate and paid half the money in even portions to two children of the dead man. $25,505 was to be paid to the man’s widow and $2,475 was paid to Harrington for fees, the Supreme Court said.

    The widow couldn’t be found, and “over time, (Harrington) converted the funds belonging to (the widow) and used the proceeds for personal expenses,” the Supreme Court said.

    When one of the children instructed Harrington to deposit the $25,505 in the Kansas Unclaimed Property Fund, Harrington borrowed $25,000 and placed it in the fund, the document said.

    Harrington had contended that his $25,000 payment in the Kansas Unclaimed Property Fund resulted in no harm to his client, making disbarment unwarranted.

    “That argument fails on more than one level,” the Supreme Court said.

    Harrington’s contention he made a full restitution on the $25,000 “is simply false,” the court said, noting the payment to the unclaimed property fund was $504 short. At the same time, Harrington paid himself $3,000, which was $525 more than the court-approved attorney fees.

    More importantly, however, even a full restitution at that point would not have negated the fact that (Harrington) converted his client’s funds for his personal use, an ethical violation of the highest order,” the court wrote. “Moreover, this court has consistently repudiated ‘no harm, no foul’ arguments in disciplinary cases.”

    The Supreme Court disbarred Harrington finding he violated rules regarding diligence, attorney fees, using information to the disadvantage of the client, safekeeping property, failure to produce trust account records for examination, candor toward the tribunal, engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, failure to disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension known by Harrington, and failure to cooperate in a disciplinary investigation, the disciplinary action said.

    Harrington represented himself in the disciplinary action.
Source: Supreme Court disbars Topeka attorney in mishandling money (Court makes unanimous ruling in Harrington disciplinary action).

For the court's ruling, see In re Harrington, No. 115,250 (Kan. Decenber 23, 2016).