Attorney Disbarred for Repeated Misuse of Client Funds and Failure to Cooperate with Disciplinary Investigation
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers has adopted the recommendation of a hearing committee, disbarring an attorney for misconduct, mostly having to do with misappropriation of client funds. The attorney, William P. Corbett defended the accusations and the ultimate sanction of disbarment, both factually and on the board’s interpretation of the law.
The attorney readily conceded that the converted funds belonged to two clients and that he had caused deprivation for both, but argued that he made full restitution to both, that he was remorseful, and that mitigating circumstances, largely his diagnosis of severe and chronic depression, were not properly taken into consideration.
The alleged facts are as follows: the attorney joined the Mass bar in 1992 and maintained a solo law practice north of Boston. Two disciplinary petitions were filed by Bar counsel in August, 2014, concerning the attorney’s conduct with respect to two matters with two different clients. In the first instance, the attorney settled an accident case for a client, receiving $500,000 and $50,000 payments, client portions of which the attorney improperly withheld and misused for his own account. Similar circumstances occurred in the second case, also a contingent fee case involving a probate estate.
In each instance, rather than tender the client’s share of settlements, the attorney took the funds for his own use, in one case, failing to inform the client that the settlement had occurred. It was also determined that the attorney, once complaints were lodged, failed to cooperate with bar counsel’s investigation, violated an initial order of suspension, and also made misrepresentations to bar counsel during the course of the investigation.
The attorney’s mitigation defense was unusual. At his disciplinary hearing, the attorney called an expert psychiatric witness, who testified that the attorney was suffering from a major depressive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which were responsible for his conduct.
The hearing committee largely rejected the testimony, finding that the attorney’s psychological condition “may have contributed to his circumstances, [but was] not persuasive in mitigation of his intentional and dishonest conduct.” The Board conceded that the conditions may have set the groundwork for the attorney’s misconduct, but that the attorney’s actions, “were too calculated and deliberate for the disabilities of depression and ADHD to have had a substantially contributing role”.
The board accepted the hearing committee’s recommendation that disbarment was appropriate, finding that the attorney’s remorse was “feigned”, and the he appeared unwilling to accept full responsibility for his actions. The board adopted findings that the attorney had persistently failed to provide properly requested records, failed to timely notify his clients of his administrative suspension, and failed to timely return files to a client, causing actual prejudice. Based on all of these aggravating factors, disbarment rather than indefinite suspension, was the appropriate discipline.