Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss a recent Kentucky Supreme Court opinion disbarring a lawyer after the lawyer pled guilty to felony “flagrant non-support for failing to pay over $200,000.00 in child support. The case is Kentucky Bar Association v. Daniel Warren James, Case No. 2014-SC-000499-KB (Ky. SC February 19, 2015) and the opinion is here: https://opinions.kycourts.net/sc/2014-SC-000499-KB.pdf.
According to the opinion, the lawyer pled guilty in 2012 to a felony charge of “flagrant non-support”, received 5 years in prison with probation for 10 years and was ordered to pay $233,000.00 in restitution. On February 8, 2013, after the plea was entered, the Kentucky Bar Association Inquiry Commission filed a complaint against the lawyer and he failed to respond.
On March 11, 2014, the Commission filed formal charges against the lawyer. Count I alleged misconduct for committing a criminal act reflecting adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer and Count II alleged misconduct for knowingly failing to respond to the February 8, 2013 complaint. The lawyer again failed to respond and was defaulted.
The lawyer had previously been suspended for five years for a multiple acts of misconduct, including not returning unearned fees, misappropriating client money for personal use, and altering billing statements. The lawyer admitted that misconduct and claimed that it was a result of the discontinuation of medication that he was taking for a mental health condition. As a condition of that suspension, the lawyer agreed to seek treatment through Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program (KYLAP) and to continue treatment as needed during the suspension period.
On August 21, 2014, the Kentucky Board of Governors filed its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendations with the Supreme Court and unanimously recommended that the lawyer be found guilty and that he be permanently disbarred. In aggravation, the Board noted the $233,000.00 child support arrearage that the lawyer had failed to pay over a thirteen year period, his prior discipline, most of which involved the misuse of client funds, and his failure to respond to his clients and the Bar.
The Supreme Court opinion noted that a lawyer in Kentucky had never been disciplined for criminally failing to pay child support; however, it found that the conduct violated the lawyer’s duty “’to conduct (his) personal and professional life in such manner as to be above reproach’. Grigsby v. Kentucky Bar Ass’n, 181 S.W.3d 40, 42 (Ky. 2005). ‘Failing to pay court ordered child support encompasses several breaches, including: failure to satisfy the statutory obligation of supporting one’s child; failure to follow a court order; and violation of the attorney’s duty recognized in Grigsby.’” The lawyer was permanently disbarred.
Bottom line: This sole practitioner apparently had serious mental health issues which destroyed his practice and resulted in his permanent disbarment. All lawyers, especially solos, must address the extreme stress involved in the practice of law and be fully aware of the consequences of personal and professional misconduct (including willful or “flagrant” failure to pay child support) that may be triggered due to the stress of practice (and life) and seek medical help.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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