White-Collar Crime

Lawyer Pleads to Law Firm Theft, Resigns Gov't. Job Citing 'Combination of Factors'

A Tennessee attorney has pleaded guilty to felony theft from his former law firm and resigned as Knox County Law Director, effective today.

Special prosecutor H. Greeley Wells Jr. says William Lockett Jr. pocketed $62,572.99 in client fees intended for Kennerly Montgomery & Finley and still owes the firm about $32,000, which he will be required to repay under his plea today. It requires no jail time, but Lockett must resign as law director and will be on probation for three years, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“No one reason compelled me to this decision, but a combination of factors combined to form a settled persuasion in my mind that it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” says Lockett in his resignation letter to the county. He has previously said that he took client fees without paying them to his firm in order to cover his son’s medical bills, emphasizing that he paid most of the money back and didn’t harm any client, the newspaper reports.

Wells, who serves as Sullivan County’s district attorney general, was appointed to prosecute the case after his counterpart in Knox County recused himself.

A disciplinary petition (PDF) filed by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the state supreme court says that Lockett worked for the Kennerly firm for about 15 years before resigning in 2008 to accept the law director job. Subsequently, the firm became aware that he had accepted fees from clients without paying them into the firm, and Lockett self-reported in April 2009 to the board that he had done so.

However, Lockett allegedly minimized the extent of this conduct when the firm asked him to account for the money it hadn’t received, recalling only about $20,000 in such payments in 2007 and 2008, according to the petition. It alleges that transactions in which Lockett received money from clients but didn’t pay it to the firm date back to 2005.

The attorney disciplinary matter against Lockett is still pending.

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