The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Last year, I blogged about former paralegal, Kathleen “Kathy” Foer-Morse, who was terminated from High Swartz in Norristown, Philadelphia, for tardiness and disappearing during the day. But tardiness was the least of her sins. The firm discovered over $100,000 missing after she left, and she was arrested and jailed, unable to pay the $99,000 cash bond.
The $100,000 was allegedly used to pay restitution in a New York case where she was accused of stealing $285,000 from another law firm. A recruiter’s carelessness was blamed for her subsequent employment at High Swartz.
The Mercury is reporting that Foer-Morse pleaded guilty yesterday, not only to the theft from the Philadelphia law firm, but also for “lying about being sexually assaulted while in custody after her arrest.”
Judge Steven T. O’Neill deferred sentencing Foer-Morse in the theft case so that court officials can complete a background investigative report about Foer-Morse and so Foer-Morse can undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The judge will use those evaluations to assist him in sentencing Foer-Morse later this year.
Foer-Morse, who faces a possible maximum sentence of 14-to-28-years in prison on the theft charges, remains in the county jail in lieu of $99,000 cash bail pending her sentencing hearing.
There was only one comment from a reader at the end of this sorry tale. “Emilystuff” wrote, “I guess those commercials [are] correct that state anyone can become a paralegal.”
Without any current paralegal licensing or regulation required in the U.S., Emilystuff is correct that there are individuals working in law firms today, holding the title “paralegal,” who have a variety of backgrounds, ranging from no experience or training, to years of experience combined with degrees from respected institutions, as well as state and national voluntary certifications.
I couldn’t find any information about Foer-Morse’s alleged qualifications to work as a paralegal, but a thorough background investigation, including a simple criminal record check, should have prevented her from becoming employed at High Swartz and gaining access to the firm’s checking accounts.
Foer-Morse is not representative of the typical paralegal, but she’s another example of one bad apple tainting the public’s perception of the rest of the barrel. When hiring new paralegals, law firms should insist on evidence of training from reputable educational programs, and carefully check backgrounds and references.
Legal employers should also initiate extensive in-house ethics training for their staff, and/or send them to annual ethics CLEs to keep their ethics knowledge current, whether it applies to client interaction, accounting, or the latest ethics trap, social media. Lawyers should carefully supervise their staff and monitor their own business accounts, because they are ultimately responsible for mistakes and misdeeds which occur on their watch.
It’s up to legal employers to insist on high standards for paralegals, and to show the public, including Emilystuff, that not just anyone can waltz into a law firm and become a paralegal entrusted with confidential information and large amounts of money.
Source: The Mercury