Legal Ethics

Lawyer gets stayed suspension for secretly paying sanctions from law firm account, billing client

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is sparing the law license of a law firm partner who secretly paid $65,000 in discovery sanctions out of his law firm’s operating account and tried to cover part of the money with a bill to his client.

The court approved (PDF) a joint petition for discipline on consent by lawyer Christopher Roulhac Booth Jr. and the state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel on Nov. 13, the Legal Intelligencer reports. The court ordered a two-year suspension for Booth that will be stayed in its entirety if Booth continues to receive mental health treatment and to take prescribed medication for a two-year probationary period.

According to stipulations in the joint petition, Booth neglected his cases and failed to communicate with his clients, including Wachovia Bank, when he was working at Booth & Tucker from 2007 to 2009. He failed to supply discovery, resulting in sanctions motions. Booth didn’t show up at the sanctions hearings, and his clients were sanctioned in an aggregate amount of about $65,000.

Booth paid the sanctions from his firm’s operating account without informing his partner, Joe Tucker Jr., or his clients, the stipulation says. He also billed one of his clients, Wachovia Bank, $15,000, the amount of one sanctions order, labeling it a bill for services rendered. Wachovia refused to pay.

The stipulation also says that Booth concealed disbursements of more than $117,000 from his law firm’s operating account that were in excess of fees and profits he was entitled to receive under the partnership agreement.

Booth self-reported his conduct, paid his firm about $40,000 and is relinquishing fees to repay other money due. He also cooperated with Tucker to resolve outstanding legal matters and dissolve the firm.

The court file included a letter from Booth’s psychologist, who said Booth struck him as a man with a tremendous sense of personal responsibility. But Booth grew depressed, disenchanted and “mostly overwhelmed by the minutiae aspects of some of his work,” the letter said. The problem began as procrastination and avoidance, the psychologist said, but “grew into outright denial as the problem grew ever larger.”

Tucker told the Legal Intelligencer he holds no ill will against Booth, and “I hope he gets his mental health together.”

Booth, who is now working as a solo practitioner, told the Legal Intelligencer he hoped he could redeem himself “and contribute positively to the practice of law.”

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