Legal Ethics

Millions missing from lawyer's trust account, bar alleges after he abruptly closes law firm

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Bank safe

A Las Vegas probate and real-estate lawyer transferred a home purchased for nearly $1 million to his wife amid an investigation into missing client funds and the abrupt shuttering of his law practice.

The allegations surrounding lawyer Robert Graham raise questions about the need for additional safety nets for lawyer trust accounts, according to Brandi Cassady, one of the attorneys appointed to assume control of Graham’s files and law practice.

Graham was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the theft of $2.1 million from clients in three cases, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Chief Deputy District Attorney J.P. Raman said in court that the total amount stolen may be more than $15 million.

Raman said that, when Graham closed his law firm, he deleted nearly 3,000 files relating to clients, wire transfers and operations. The initial charges are “just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

Graham was temporarily suspended as a result of action by the State Bar of Nevada, which says Graham closed the practice on Dec. 2, abandoning more than a hundred client files. The bar has filed a complaint alleging Graham stole millions of dollars from his clients before closing his firm, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Prior stories by the newspaper are here, here and here.

Graham transferred the Colorado home to his wife just days after he closed his law practice, according to property records examined by the Review-Journal.

The bar complaint says Graham should be holding more than $13 million in safekeeping for his clients, but account balances “total much less.” The money should have been held in deposit in Graham’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Account, known as an IOLTA account, according to the bar.

Brandi and Jasen Cassady of the Cassady Law Office have both been appointed to take over Graham’s law practice at his Lawyers West firm. Brandi Cassady tells the ABA Journal in an email that the vast majority of lawyers are decent people who would never touch the money held in IOLTA accounts. “Collectively, we hold billions without issue,” Brandi Cassady said.

“However, I think the time has come for additional safety nets to be added when appropriate. You cannot legislate a moral compass, and stealing client money held in a lawyer’s trust account is already illegal, but I think bonding for attorneys who hold trust accounts would be an excellent solution,” Cassady said.

“The legal community will be brainstorming to create a viable solution that will protect the public and keep the process affordable and realistic for solo attorneys and small firms, and thus, the clients,” Cassady added. “I think bonding that is specific to attorneys would be a great idea and keep the process affordable and keep the courts unclogged.”

Graham told the Review-Journal in a December interview that his law practice was a business failure. “I was responsible for the litigation and felt I had no out,” Graham said. “So bit by bit, I moved the chairs on the deck. Each year, things got worse and worse, and I tried to bail myself out and just couldn’t.”

The newspaper asked Graham about what he would say to his former clients. “There’ll be a time when I can fall to my knees and ask them to please forgive me,” he said. “I’ve been sidetracked. How I ended up here, I’ll never know.”

Graham’s public defender, Bryan Cox, says his client disputes the prosecutor’s allegations about deleted files. Cox told the Review-Journal that the files may have been moved to a hard drive for preservation.

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