Playing Fast & Loose With Clients' Money, Property Among Bad Acts Driving Illinois Supremes' Decision To Disbar Three Attorneys, Dispensing Lesser Discipline To Five Others
Of those disciplined, the following eight (8) have been either disbarred, suspended, or censured (ie. slap on the wrist) at least in part, for embezzling, or otherwise playing fast and loose with client funds or other assets.(1)
Joel Mitchell Bell, Chicago
Mr. Bell, who was licensed in 1975, was disbarred on consent. He misappropriated over $364,000 in client funds and lied to two of his clients about the status of their respective settlement proceeds. He was suspended on an interim basis on December 2, 2016.
Michael David Gerhardt, Forest Park
Mr. Gerhardt, who was licensed in 2003, was disbarred. He neglected two civil cases, resulting in two judgments totaling approximately $500,000 being entered against his clients in one case and $20,000 in settlement funds not being distributed to another client. He also failed to return an unearned fee and made misrepresentations to his client regarding the status of that client’s case. He failed to appear at his own disciplinary hearing.
Teresa Searcy Woods, Naperville
Ms. Woods, who was licensed in 1992, was disbarred. She misappropriated approximately $27,500 entrusted to her in connection with four different real estate transactions and one personal injury matter. She engaged in further misconduct by entering into a purported repayment agreement with two of her clients in order to delay repayment of earnest money that she had converted. Finally, she signed a client’s name on two settlement checks without that client’s knowledge or authorization.
Alfonso S. Bascos, Chicago
Mr. Bascos, who was licensed in 1976, was suspended for one year and until further order of the Court. He failed to competently represent an elderly client who suffered from dementia when he prepared a power of attorney giving the client’s caregiver control over the client’s funds and making the caretaker and her family beneficiaries of the client’s will. Mr. Bascos did not discuss matters with the client before preparing the documents and the caretaker subsequently misappropriated $536,000 from the client. Mr. Bascos also engaged in a conflict of interest by representing the caretaker when she was being investigated for elder abuse.
G. Ronald Kesinger, Jacksonville
Mr. Kesinger, who was licensed in 1973, was suspended for one year and until further order of the Court. He impermissibly borrowed $26,000 from a client while he was representing her in a probate matter, purchased another client’s home at a foreclosure sale while he was representing that client in the foreclosure case, and falsely represented his financial condition in a loan transaction with a bank.
Magdalene Rose Wilson, Lakemoor
Ms. Wilson, who was licensed in 2013, was suspended for two years and until further order of the Court, with the suspension stayed after ninety days and until she completes the payment of certain restitution followed by a two-year period of conditional probation. She neglected eight different client matters. In five of those matters, she commingled and converted funds paid to her for security retainers and filing fees. The suspension is effective on April 10, 2017.
Matthew R. Hartley, Phoenix, Arizona
Mr. Hartley was licensed in Arizona in 1992 and in Illinois in 1998. He was censured and placed on probation for one year in Arizona for commingling and converting more than $6,000 of client funds, failing to properly train and supervise employees, and failing to maintain complete client trust account records. The Supreme Court of Illinois imposed reciprocal discipline by censuring him and ordering that he be placed on probation for one year, with the period of probation considered successfully served.
Steven Michael Landis, Tinley Park
Mr. Landis, who was licensed in 1996, was censured. He failed to refund an unearned portion of a $10,000 fee in a criminal matter after he had been discharged by the client. In addition, during the ARDC investigation into his conduct, he initially failed to cooperate.
Source: Illinois State Bar Association: Illinois Supreme Court disbars 6, suspends 11 in latest disciplinary filing.
For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
- Directory Of Lawyers' Funds For Client Protection (February 2017) (includes a listing for Canadian client protection funds, courtesy of the American Bar Association);
- Check the USA Client Protection Funds Map;
- Check the Canada Client Protection Funds Map.