Saturday, February 04, 2017

Recently Disbarred Alabama Attorney Gets Two Years For Pilfering Over $430K In Trust Funds From Seven Clients; Similar Charges Remain Pending In Neighboring County For Allegedly Fleecing $132K From Two Others

In Birmingham, Alabama, reports:
  • Suspended Birmingham lawyer Ralph Bohanan was sentenced [] by a Jefferson County judge to serve two years in prison for his guilty plea to charges related to the theft of $431,141 from seven clients, including at least two senior citizens.

    Bohanan, 64, also faces a thefts first-degree charge in Shelby County alleging he took $132,000 from two other people.(1)

    Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bill Cole on Wednesday sentenced Bohanan to a split 20-year sentence with three years to serve. But the judge said he would lower the time to serve down to two years if Bohanan showed up on time to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence on Feb. 6.

    Bohanan had pleaded guilty in October to seven theft by deception charges. The charges were among 17 counts issued against him by two Jefferson County grand juries - one in 2015 and the other in 2016. The other counts, which included elder exploitation, unauthorized practice of law, and theft first degree charges, are being dismissed in the plea deal.

    Cole also ordered Bohanan to serve five years on probation after he is released and to pay a total of $431,141 in restitution to the seven victims. The amounts taken ranged from $4,994 to $176,617.(2)
    Bohanan was suspended from the practice of law by the Alabama State Bar in 2015. The bar had referred the Jefferson County cases to the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office. He was then disbarred effective December 15, 2016, by order of the Alabama Supreme Court, according to the Alabama Bar.

    The charges against Bohanan from both Jefferson and Shelby counties, according to various court documents, involve money won in settlements or verdicts that Bohanan was supposed to disburse to clients but didn't.

    Bohanan on Jan. 10 waived a preliminary hearing in the Shelby County case, which has now been turned over to the grand jury for possible indictment. In that case Bohanan is charged with taking $132,000 from two clients.

    Cole [] also ordered that Bohanan's sentence be served concurrently with whatever sentence he receives in Shelby County. Bohanan also will get credit for the time he spent in jail while his charges were pending.

    Bohanan also faces civil lawsuits by former clients.
For the story, see Birmingham lawyer sentenced for $431,141 theft from clients.
(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 (while Professor Miller's essay is over a quarter-century old, it 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 Client Security Fund was established by the Alabama State Bar to provide a remedy for clients who have lost money or other property as a result of the dishonest conduct of practicing attorneys. It provides some reimbursement to clients whose money or property has been wrongfully taken by attorneys licensed to practice law in Alabama. Download the Alabama State Bar's Client Security Fund Application here.

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:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.