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Legal Ethics

A Letter Left on a Copier Spurs an Associate’s Ethical Response

Posted Jun 17, 2008 11:46 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Associate Louis Schneider says he knew he had to take action when he found a letter on a copy machine last December asking the Las Vegas partner who had hired him to explain why her trust account was overdrawn.

Schneider told the Las Vegas Review Journal he knew the account should have contained $50,000 for his clients and $50,000 for the clients of another lawyer who worked in the office, Tracy Itts.

Schneider and Itts placed an anonymous call to the bar’s ethics hotline and learned of the consequences of failing to report the missing money. Their next action, taken within the hour, was a trip to the State Bar of Nevada to report that at least $100,000 was missing from the account maintained by lawyer Jeanne Winkler.

Schneider had been hired by Winkler only a few months before and was to be elevated to her partner on Jan. 1, the story says. It was a second career for him, started after he sold his business to finance law school.

Winkler has since submitted an affidavit to the state bar admitting she misappropriated more than $200,000 from the trust account, the story says. She maintains the problems began after she became involved in an investment opportunity supposedly administered by “a gentleman working directly for the president of the United States” and promising big returns. She is still waiting for a payout.

Since then Schneider has compensated all 20 of his clients whose money disappeared by performing their legal work for free or giving them credit for the missing money.

Schneider told the newspaper some in the legal community have criticized him for filing the ethics complaint, but he relied on lessons he learned from his father, a retired military man, in coming forward. "He has always told me you do the right thing, even if you stand alone," he said. “I have always wanted to be an attorney, and I was not going to risk losing my license to practice law, or embarrass my son or my father."

A hat tip to Legal Profession Blog.


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