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Legal Ethics

Suit Claims Ex-Quarles Partner Stole $600K; Firm Says Its Hands Were Tied

Posted Apr 27, 2009 11:27 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A suit filed on behalf of an elderly client claims a former partner at the Milwaukee law firm Quarles & Brady stole more than $600,000 from her.

The suit names the law firm and former partner Jeffrey Elverman, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Elverman has denied wrongdoing. The suit claims the theft occurred between 2001 and 2004, when Elverman was a partner.

The suit alleges the money was discovered missing last year after the client, Dorothy Phinney, was found incompetent and Supportive Community Services was named as her guardian. Phinney’s lawyer, Christopher Stawski, told the newspaper that Elverman opposed the appointment and asserted he had been appointed Phinney’s legal guardian.

Stawski told the newspaper that Elverman did not tell his new law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, that Phinney was a client and had all information about her account sent to his home.

Fredrick Lautz, the managing partner for Quarles & Brady, told the Journal Sentinel in a statement that Elverman did not leave the law firm because of the Phinney matter, but an internal investigation conducted when he left the firm raised concerns. The law firm asked Elverman to allow it to contact Phinney about those concerns.

"Mr. Elverman and his counsel assured us in writing that nothing inappropriate had occurred and that we were precluded by ethical rules from contacting Mrs. Phinney," Lautz said in the statement. "We consulted with outside counsel on our ethical duties and restrictions and confirmed that there was nothing further we could do."

A statement by Elverman says Phinney is alive today “because of the care and services he provided when no one else would." He said he spent significant personal time helping her, and his efforts prolonged and enriched her life. He denied any wrongdoing.

The case isn’t Elverman’s first brush with allegations of ethical improprieties. He was suspended from law practice for nine months in 2008 because he kept $230,000 in trustee fees without initially reporting them on his taxes. Elverman said at the time that he didn't realize his partnership agreement required him to submit money to the law firm that had been earned as a trustee, and he had forgotten to claim it on his taxes. His request for reinstatement is pending, according to the Journal Sentinel.

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