Sunday, May 21, 2017

Arizona Bar Gives Attorney The Boot For Playing Fast & Loose With Client's Lawsuit Settlement Funds; Ordered To Pay $45K+ In Restitution

The State Bar of Arizona recently announced:
  • Attorney Robert L. Earle of Sedona was disbarred from the State Bar of Arizona after receiving clients' settlement checks and keeping unwarranted sums.

    On March 1, 2017, an aggravation/mitigation hearing was held before the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court and a hearing panel, where Earle argued he had no time to prepare for the matter because his files had been stolen by the State Bar of Arizona.

    The hearing panel found clear and convincing evidence that Earle violated ethical rules after listening to witness testimony and reviewing 29 exhibits that were admitted to support the allegations.

    In Count One, approximately $47,449.84 in client and/or third-party funds were missing or unaccounted for from his firm’s trust account. He made unauthorized cash withdrawals, and as of June 28, 2016, money owed to several clients, third parties, and lien holders was unpaid.

    In Count Two, Earle obtained a jury verdict and award of $106,000 in favor of his client. A portion of the settlement in the amount of $33,800 was paid by one defendant to his client, which he mismanaged by making an unauthorized cash withdrawal of the full amount and disbursed it to himself and his firm.

    In Count Three, Earle frequently failed to communicate with, and overbill, his client in a Yavapai County Superior Court case. The assigned judge issued an order on March 22, 2016 for settlement conference to be held on April 19, 2016. Met with disappointment, Earle notified his client on April 13, 2016 about the meeting that would be held a few days later, after knowing about it for several weeks. At the hearing, Earle lied to the court by stating that his client was not able to attend the hearing due to the risk of losing his job—even after his client said he wouldn't. His client was held in contempt and was fined $1,211.

    The court ordered Earle to appear at an "Order to Show Cause" hearing on Aug. 31, 2016 to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s June 20, 2016 order to return his client’s file. He failed to appear.

    In Count Four, a settlement totaling $40,000 was awarded to Earle's client for a personal injury case resulting from a car accident. He claimed delays in paying his client any of the settlement funds and claimed he had paid all medical providers in the case. To date, he has only paid his client $12,000; has not paid medical providers; and has not provided accounting to the State Bar for the $40,000 sum.

    In Count Five, Earle was admonished and ordered to pay restitution to his client and the State Bar within 30 days of the March 17, 2015 order. More than a year later, the Bar received a letter from him seeking assistance regarding payment to the complainant, as he claimed the address was not valid. The Bar advised him that it would facilitate the payment process and that it would accept the full amount of the client's restitution by money order or certified funds. Neither the State Bar nor the client received full restitution as ordered.

    Earle failed to comply with the State Bar's screening requests and failed to file an answer, or otherwise defend, against the allegations in the counts listed.

    Leading up to his disbarment, Earle was serving an interim suspension that was ordered on Dec. 5, 2016.

    Robert L. Earle's disbarment was effective March 23, 2017. He was ordered to pay a sum of $45,171.65 to three clients and must pay for the costs and expenses associated with his disciplinary proceedings to the State Bar of Arizona.(1)

    Consumers may report attorney misconduct by calling the State Bar of Arizona Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) hotline at 602.340.7280.
Source: Attorney Robert L. Earle of Sedona Disbarred for Embezzling Client Settlements.
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(1) The Arizona Supreme Court established the Client Protection Fund ("CPF" or "the Fund") in Client Protection Fund Button1961 to promote public confidence in the administration of justice and to preserve the legal profession's integrity by reimbursing people who have lost money because of dishonest conduct of lawyers admitted and licensed to practice in this state. The Fund may not award more than $100,000 to any one claimant and not more than $250,000 in the aggregate regarding claims against any one lawyer. Claims must be filed within five years from the time the claimant knew or should have known of the dishonest conduct causing the loss. This limitation period can be waived at the discretion of the Fund's Trustees. Go here for the Supreme Court of Arizona Client Protection Fund 2016 Annual Report.

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.

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