At first, Hernando Today’s story, “Complaint against lawyer goes to high court,” seems to be another regrettably familiar tale of embezzlement, involving a Florida lawyer, his paralegal, and the loss of over $200,000 belonging to a client.

After a 2010 grievance committee review found probable cause, The Florida Bar filed a complaint against Buck, alleging he improperly supervised his former paralegal and office manager, Elizabeth Chichester, and mishandled a client’s funds, which were loaned to two area business owners for real estate investments.

What makes this case unusual is that according to the bar’s complaint, Chichester held the client’s power of attorney, arranged for the failed investment of the client’s funds, and then documented her actions in writing:

After the business owners failed to make their monthly payments, Chichester wrote them a scathing letter, portions of which were included in the complaint.

“It is now August 2, 2005, and I have a client that is ready to turn Mr. Buck and me into the Florida Bar for mismanagement of their monies,” Chichester stated in her letter. “I can not begin to tell you how upsetting this is to me. I went out on such a long limb and even loaned you the full 100% of the purchase price to help you with your dreams and then didn’t record the mortgage to help you even more.”

In the same letter, Chichester threatened the people she loaned the money to and wrote, “If you were anyone other than who you are, I would immediately file a foreclosure suit against you today.

“Needless to say, Mr. Buck and I both will be hung out to dry and the Florida Bar may close our doors,” she continued. “This is not a good feeling and I can’t let Mr. Buck lose his license because I made a decision of the heart instead of using every precaution I could to protect my client’s assets [emphasis added] which I am sworn to do.”

Wow, there are so many things wrong with the actions described in this letter that a humble blog post isn’t sufficient to cover them all. The alleged scenario is ideal for discussion in paralegal ethics classes across the country.

But if these allegations are true, it was the supervising attorney’s ethical obligation to protect his client’s funds from his paralegal’s heartfelt decisions.

Source:  Hernondo Today

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