Paralegal Arrested for Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Surprise A former paralegal has been arrested for allegedly stealing from one firm to pay another.  The paralegal allegedly stole over $100,000 from the Norristown, PA firm of High Schwartz to repay $285,000 to a New York firm. According to the Legal Intelligencer, the paralegal was found guilty for stealing from that firm, she  was ordered by the court to make restitution.

Are you following this yet?  According to the Montgomery County DA's office, an internal audit, done after paralegal Kathy Foer-Morse was fired by High Swartz for attitude and work performance, revealed the alleged theft.

Kathy Foer-Morse has been arrested for allegedly writing 12 unauthorized checks to herself totaling $100,937.32, which were then deposited into her personal bank account. The press release said Foer-Morse was fired from High Swartz May 1 because of issues with her attitude and work performance.

A subsequent internal audit of the estate accounts she handled at the firm revealed the alleged theft, which was then reported to the Montgomery County district attorney's office and the Montgomery County Detective Bureau.

According to the press release, county detectives discovered Foer-Morse was free on bail and awaiting sentencing in New York City for the theft of $285,000 from Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke. A search warrant of Foer-Morse's bank accounts revealed that the money she allegedly stole from High Swartz was being used to pay restitution to Satterlee Stephens. Paul Baker Bartle, managing partner of High Swartz, said he let Foer-Morse go on a Friday, and the firm began routine audits of her estate accounts the following week.

It was discovered that a check for almost $60,000 was deposited in Foer-Morse's account using the forged signature of the estate executor. According to Bartle, the discovery of the rest of the stolen money was made shortly thereafter and he immediately notified county authorities.

Bartle said it was soon discovered that the amount of money stolen from his firm "dovetailed exactly" with the payments Foer-Morse was making to Satterlee Stephens. Bartle vowed that all of the missing money would be repaid to his firm's clients.

Bartle said the firm found Foer-Morse through a recruiter but that he blames only himself for ultimately hiring her. "We misjudged this person," he said, but admitted that he did not have all the facts when he hired her.  Bartle said he thinks the firm may end up filing some lawsuits as a result of the ordeal but declined to say who the targets might be. [Our guess is the recruiting agency may get sued, as is typical in these types of cases.]

Bartle said the firm "will make some internal changes" to prevent something like this from happening again. "It might not stop it in the future but it's going to make it a lot tougher to steal money from us," he said, but conceded that "to try to outwit the criminal mind is a difficult practice."

Bartle said Foer-Morse would have been caught eventually anyway when she submitted her accounting summaries for the estates she was handling. The sad thing, he said, was that the firm didn't catch her before she allegedly took the money.

Bartle said that short of asking for a new hire's Social Security number before hiring them, it would be difficult to sniff out a criminal before they struck. "Foer-Morse" was one of several aliases, he said.

On Friday, according to the press release, Magisterial District Judge Margaret Hunsicker arraigned Foer-Morse and set her bail at $99,000 straight bail, with a preliminary hearing currently scheduled for 11 a.m. May 26.


What Gives Paralegals a Bad Rap- Lawyer Gets Suspended for Trusting Too Much - Again

This just sent chills down my spine.  Made my hair on my neck stand up.  Whatever the cliche, I had it.

The Maryland Daily Record reported that longtime lawyer Charles Jay Zuckerman said he has had it with private practice after a unanimous Court of Appeals on Monday suspended him a second time for mismanaging his client trust account, from which two successive paralegals stole more than $300,000.

Zuckerman failed again to oversee a second paralegal, who wrote checks payable to clients but endorsed by her husband. The paralegal,  Rhonda L. Elkins, pleaded guilty in February 2007 to stealing $170,000 from Zuckerman’s trust account between 2003 and 2005.  The first paralegal took $144,000.

Zuckerman got wind of the scheme in January 2006, when he learned Elkins had taken out a credit card in his name. Elkins was fired when she told Zuckerman she dipped into the trust account. Elkins was sentenced to five years in prison with all but one year suspended.

Zuckerman hired Elkins to clean up the financial mess left by Shannon Becker, her predecessor. Instead, she made checks out to friends and falsified the records.

“In the instant case, respondent [Zuckerman] delegated to Elkins the task of dealing with the consequences of the original theft in addition to management of the day to day operations of respondent’s trust account,” retired Judge Dale R. Cathell wrote for the court. “Again … he failed to correct his funds disbursement system, which allowed Elkins to steal in the same manner that the previous employee had.”

Zuckerman closed his practice in January 2007 and paid back clients. He served as an assistant attorney general in Baltimore City before going into private practice about 25 years ago.

“I’ve never taken a nickel from anybody,” Zuckerman said, adding that the two grievance proceedings were emotionally draining. “I was so stressed out I couldn’t even sleep at night.”

The court said Zuckerman’s poor hiring choices were just part of a general, repeated mismanagement of the client trust account.

Zuckerman did not notice the theft by Becker, the first paralegal, until an anonymous caller tipped him off. Becker pleaded guilty and received a 10-year sentence with all but three years suspended and was ordered to pay restitution.

In its Monday suspension order, the Court of Appeals said it considered several mitigating factors, including Zuckerman’s “own remedial measures to rectify the situation”.

The court’s action follows Judge John N. Prevas’ conclusion by clear and convincing evidence that Zuckerman violated rules of professional conduct governing competence, diligence, safekeeping property, overseeing non-lawyer assistants and misconduct.

While it is so rare that paralegals are out-and-out criminals, it's interesting that Zuckerman would consecutively hire two dishonest paralegals.  Is this akin to men and women who consistently end up attracting the "wrong" mate?  Is there a radar that zeroes in on a certain type of person?  How is it, that in all the law firms in all the states in all the world, these two paralegals walk into Zuckermans?

 


Conspicuous Hole in [Paralegal] Ethics Training

This commentary in Law.com by an experienced paralegal surprised me. What's your reaction?

"For all the talk of the need to prevent ethics transgressions in the legal profession, a glaring education gap exists for one group: paralegals.

"Usually, it does not rise to the level of a topic to be covered -- until there is a problem. It generally crops up after an unintentional violation of the attorney-client relationship by support staff members who have received no ethics training.

"As a paralegal for more than seven years, I often get questions from colleagues asking what to do in certain situations. Those of us who have been educated in an American Bar Association-accredited program have some knowledge of ethical issues. However, some support staff are not even aware of the ethical issues to avoid, yet they are on their firms' front lines every day, in danger of unintentionally violating ethics rules.

"In a poll taken on Jan. 3 by NJParalegal, we asked our members the following: Have you ever received training or instruction by your attorney-employer on how to handle ethical issues, specifically, maintaining attorney-client relationships and the confidentiality of your clients?

"The answer: Of the 42 who responded, 80 percent said no."

Author Cindy Lopez is a paralegal in the office of Charles Byrnes in Toms River, N.J., and is founder of NJParalegal, a career resource. She's also a speaker for Estrin LegalEd Paralegal SuperConferences.


"New York's Most Obnoxious Lawyer"

Hmmm, I'm sure someone could nominate lawyers "worthy" of this "honor" in other states. But check out the "competition" in this Village Voice article:

"'With so many jerks working as attorneys in New York City, you'd think there would be no way to determine who's the single biggest pain in the ass. You could be wrong. The winner (or loser) is arguably Kenneth Heller.

"You can't count the number of crooks, shysters, or idiots among the city's 74,000 lawyers. But Kenny Heller was disbarred for simply being obnoxious. After 50 years of heaping abuse on everyone within earshot and hurling accusations of conspiracies, 'favoritism,'and 'cronyism' at countless judges and lawyers, the 77-year-old Heller has earned this distinction: No other lawyer in the city but Heller, according to records of his disciplinary hearing, has been ousted for "obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception.'"


"Leave It to Lawyers to Think of Beating the Clock Like This ..."

I'm both surprised & not, really, after reading this post pointed to by Legal Blog Watch:

"Every once in a while, we lawyers hear about conduct by our colleagues that's so deceptive that it makes us embarrassed to be part of the profession. David Lat offers an example of the type of activity that I'm describing in this post about a law firm that discovered a way to give itself a couple of extra days to make its filings.

"According to the judge's order posted at Lat's site..., the law firm of Snell and Wilmer figured out that it could take advantage of a Utah federal court's after-hours filing system by stamping the first page of a filing on the due date and returning it to the office. The firm then attached the stamped cover sheet to a pleading completed a day or two later and slipped it back into the after-hours box. Apparently, the firm assumed that court staff would assume that the pleading had been overlooked when the box was previously emptied."

Lawyers cheating! I'm shocked....


"Paralegals in position to improve reputation of legal profession"

Well, yeah! This is indeed a welcome news article:

"Paralegals are critical to improving the reputation of lawyers in the community. The legal profession still suffers from negative stereotypes and some do indeed think we're better off 'at the bottom of the sea,' as the lawyer joke goes. Paralegals can pull lawyers out of this muddy, messy, pool of disrepute by displaying the following qualities.

* Honesty and integrity
* Professionalism
* Giving back through pro bono work and volunteering
* Enthusiasm"

Author Elizabeth Balfour's speech at the annual San Diego Paralegals' Association Luncheon in June 2006 provided criteria for the Distinguished Paralegals Awards.


"Check Your Lawyer's Credentials"

This story about a paralegal masquerading as a lawyer gets even more snarky:

[snip]

"In a 2005 litigation case, [Brian T.] Valery told a court in Stamford, Connecticut that he was a lawyer in good standing. Last week, Connecticut authorities arrested him, and he faces two month for the impersonating-a-lawyer charge and up to five years for perjury (the claim of being a lawyer in good standing).

"What's great is how clients explain Valery's 'unimpressive' skills; one Valery client told the NY Times, 'All first- and second-year attorneys are pretty terrible.'"


"Trials & Tribulations of New Rules on EDD"

Could not understanding EDD issues -- both evidence rules & technology -- amount to malpractice? Oh, yeah, I think so, especially if the client didn't 'know' not to monkey with hard drives:

"During discovery in a securities case in the Northern District of Florida, Miami attorney Michael Kreitzer's client wanted to see e-mails between two of the defendants. The defendants claimed that the hard drives on which the e-mails were stored had failed, and that all the data were lost.

"Kreitzer, the chair of the litigation group at Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami, persuaded the judge to order the defendants to produce the hard drives, and had them forensically examined.

"That examination found that the defendants had attempted to overwrite the hard drive five times to wipe out the data. Kreitzer asked the judge to instruct the jurors that they could presume that the information formerly stored on the hard drive was adverse to the defendants. The judge granted his request. The case ended in a confidential settlement."

BTW, this article describes how to destroy data on your own hard disk by overwriting it.


"Associate Suspended for Offering Information to Opposing Party for Fee"

Simply amazing! Was potentially losing a legal career worth $2,000? Or even $20,000?

"A former law firm associate who offered to provide information to an opposing party for a $2,000 fee has been suspended from the practice of law for five years.

"Glenn A. Kiczales, a former associate at landlord-tenant firm Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti, began representing real estate firm Stahl Associates in 2002 in an action to recover an apartment from a tenant and a sublessee named Rajiv Gosain.

'Gosain offered at various points in the action to pay Kiczales, 36, for help in the case, including $20,000 in the event of a favorable settlement.

"Though Kiczales was unable to accept that fee because he was too junior a lawyer to influence his client on a settlement, he offered for a $2,000 fee to provide Gosain information about how certain audiotape evidence would be used."


Are You a 'Re-Gifter'?

Okay, who hasn't 'regifted' once or twice (or more)? But please follow the "12 rules for regifting":

"There are only three reasons you might be reading this column:

  1. You think 'regifting' is totally tacky, but you secretly hope there might be a polite way to get rid of that hideous scarf your Aunt Edna gave you.
  1. You're a chronic regifter and you need some new ideas to get you through the holidays.
  1. You've never heard of regifting. Really. You're just curious.

"Welcome, one and all, to a frank discussion of a grand old holiday tradition we all practice and pretend we don't. (That includes you fibbers who picked No. 3!) Even Peggy Post, etiquette advice columnist for Good Housekeeping, admits she's done it."