Each quarter, the North Carolina State Bar (“NC Bar”) updates its website to include summaries and links to the most-recent disciplinary actions involving North Carolina-barred attorneys. These updates should be of interest to all practicing attorneys in North Carolina, not only as a reminder of the wide range of unprofessional (or illegal) conduct that can lead to discipline, but also for purposes of analyzing the varying degrees of discipline that the NC Bar can impose depending upon the specific circumstances involved.
For example, as you’ll see below, three of the four most-recent disbarments were the result of misappropriation of trust funds – in amounts ranging from $3,000 to over $110,000. However, another attorney who failed to maintain and properly disburse trust funds to clients received only a three-year stayed suspension. Needless to say, the NC Bar takes all allegations of unprofessional conduct extremely seriously, and any attorney who receives a Letter of Notice from the bar must take timely and appropriate action in order to protect his or her license.
Three Attorneys Disbarred in June and July for Misappropriating Client Funds
In unrelated disciplinary matters, three North Carolina attorneys lost their licenses this summer for misappropriating funds from their client trust accounts. While two of the disciplinary actions involved misappropriation of funds “totaling at least $100,000,” in the third action the attorney consented to disbarment after admitting to misappropriation of just over $3,000.
Suspensions and Stayed Suspensions
An attorney who had been licensed in North Carolina for nearly 20 years consented to a five-year suspension for mismanaging his client trust account (including unintentionally misappropriating funds) and “neglect[ing] multiple clients.” The specific findings of fact in the Consent Order included:
- Allowing the attorney’s office manager to transfer funds from his client trust account to his operating and personal accounts without oversight;
- Failing to track clients’ trust deposits and disbursing trust funds without maintaining records;
- Disbursing more funds to certain clients than the attorney held in trust for those clients; and,
- Failing to pay court costs out of clients’ trust deposits and failing to make appearances on clients’ behalves.
Following a June hearing before the NC Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission (DHC), a criminal attorney received a three-year license suspension as a result of, among other things: deposing multiple State’s witnesses without notifying the District Attorney’s Office, attempting to misrepresent a client’s spouse as his “assistant” in order to conduct an after-hours penitentiary visit, and obtaining a fraudulent notarization on a Power of Attorney he obtained from one of his clients.
Finally, an attorney licensed for decades received a three-year stayed suspension (subject to compliance with various conditions) following a DHC hearing in April during which it was found that the attorney had, among other things:
- Failed to account for clients’ trust deposits and disbursements;
- Deposited personal funds into her client trust account and then used trust funds for personal expenditures; and
- Used a modest amount of at least one client’s trust deposit for personal purposes.
Of note, the DHC acknowledged that the attorney (i) suffered from a medical condition which caused her to wind down her practice, and (ii) had closed her client trust account subsequent to the violations.
Speak with a Raleigh Professional License Defense Attorney at Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC
Cheshire Parker Schneider & Bryan, PLLC’s professional ethics and licensing defense section represents attorneys facing disciplinary action throughout North Carolina. If you need to speak with an attorney about protecting your license, call (919) 833-3114 or request a consultation online today.