Lawyer who created fake documents to lower capital contribution should be suspended, review board says

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An Illinois lawyer who created phony documents to lower his capital contribution to his law firm should be suspended for five months, an Illinois review board has found.

The lawyer, James Thomas Rollins of Illinois, had formed the asbestos-defense firm with three other lawyers in 2016, according to factual findings cited in a March 29 opinion by the review board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

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Rollins had agreed to make a $100,000 capital contribution in exchange for an ownership interest in the new firm. Rollins was to receive a credit toward the capital contribution for startup expenses that he paid for the firm.

Rollins submitted three fake invoices purporting to show that he had paid $81,000 in expenses, even though he actually paid only $18,000 for expenses, the review board said, citing findings by a hearing board. That meant that Rollins tried to defraud his firm of $63,000, according to the ethics allegations.

When a firm partner asked about the invoices, Rollins said he could provide additional documentation. He then provided two phony checks to show that he had paid the invoices and submitted a fictitious bank statement, the review board said.

Rollins admitted what he had done and apologized after the firm partners said they had evidence showing that the documents were false. He agreed to make his capital contribution over time and completed his payments before the ethics complaint was filed.

A hearing board had recommended the five-month suspension. Rollins contended that the sanction was too high, while ethics regulators contended that it was too low.

The review board agreed with the five-month suspension, calling it “appropriate and fair.”

“While [Rollins’] misconduct was very serious, we believe that—in light of the mitigation in this case—a five-month suspension properly addresses the serious nature of the misconduct,” the review board said.

Mitigating factors included:

    • Rollins acknowledged his misconduct, accepted responsibility and expressed genuine remorse.

    • Rollins had “an unblemished 10-year career in the legal profession” before his misconduct in 2017.

    • Rollins fully cooperated in the disciplinary process and consistently acknowledged wrongdoing.

    • Rollins was under stress at the time of the misconduct, which took place over a period of less than eight months. He had two infants and was struggling to save his marriage.

    • Rollins was active in the community, provided pro bono services and served on bar committees.

    • Two lawyers testified to Rollins’ good character. One of the lawyers hired Rollins to work at his firm in 2021 and said he trusts Rollins, who is an excellent attorney with an excellent reputation for truth and veracity.

Rollins did not immediately respond to the ABA Journal’s request for comment, left by voicemail at a phone number listed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. His lawyer, Samuel Manella, did not immediately reply to the Journal’s email seeking comment.

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