The Virginia State Bar Clients’ Protection Fund Board, which since the 1970s has provided reimbursement to those wronged by their legal counsel, at its spring meeting authorized payments totaling just under $80,000.
Among the awards:
• The board awarded a $15,000 payment for misappropriation of trust funds. The board found that an attorney from South Boston, now deceased, paid himself $47,000 out of the clients’ trust during the two years he was trustee, while paying the sole beneficiary a much smaller amount. A surety bonding company covering the attorney’s duties as trustee agreed to pay a significant sum of the misappropriated funds to the beneficiary, but not the $15,000 paid out before the effective coverage date of the bond. The attorney’s license was revoked effective February 2020; he died in June 2020.
• The board approved a payment of $1,100 to a former client of a Roanoke attorney. The board found that the attorney had no basis to charge a fee to try and correct his undisclosed malpractice in a divorce matter. The attorney’s license to practice law in Virginia was revoked by consent in August 2021.
• The board awarded a payment of $643.90 to a former client of a Stuarts Draft attorney, now deceased. The board found that the attorney did not do sufficient work to earn the $1,500 fee in a zoning matter. After the attorney died in June 2020, the Augusta County Circuit Court appointed a receiver to wind down his law practice and refund unearned fees to clients. The receiver paid the petitioner $856.10 from the funds in the law-firm accounts; the fund approved paying the petitioner the remaining $643.90 of the attorney’s fee.
• Five former clients of a Blacksburg attorney were awarded $2,290, $4,500, $1,250, $5,000 and $3,250 by the board. One client was awarded $1,250 for partial reimbursement of a $2,500 fee for a traffic matter in which Fisher appeared in court one time and did other work on the case, but not enough work to earn the entire fee. The remaining four former clients were reimbursed for unearned fees in DUI or traffic cases; the board found that the attorney did not do sufficient work to earn any of the fees he charged in these cases. The attorney’s license was revoked in May 2021.
• A petitioner received $2,000 as full reimbursement for fees paid to a Manassas attorney. The board found that they attorney did no significant work on a DSS proceeding on behalf of the client. The attorney’s license was revoked effective October 2020.
• The board awarded $1,500 to a former client of a Sterling attorney in a child-custody matter. After being retained, the attorney performed no legal services and failed to inform the client of the revocation of his license. His license had been was revoked effective June 2019.
• A petitioner, executor of an estate of a deceased relative, received $7,500 as reimbursement to the estate for fees the relative paid toa Fairfax attorney. The fees were to cover two aspects of the legal representation: estate planning and estate administration, which Hoffman called “post-mortem” services. The board found that Hoffman completed the estate-planning services, but that the executor of the decedent’s estate did not hire Hoffman to administer the estate, so the attorney did not earn the advanced fee for estate administration the deceased client had paid.
The attorney’s license was revoked effective December 2021.
• The board approved payment of $35,837.50 to a petitioner who paid the lawyer’s fee for representation of a family member in a criminal case. The board had previously approved the claim, but the Norfolk attorney requested a reconsideration of that decision. On reconsideration, the board affirmed prior findings that the attorney charged a flat fee of $50,000 to represent the client in a federal criminal case, but that he had done very little work in the matter before he withdrew from the representation. The board acknowledged that the attorney had given the petitioner a partial refund of $14,162.50. The attorney’s license was revoked effective April 2021.
The Clients’ Protection Fund was created by the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1976 to compensate persons who suffer a quantifiable financial loss because of dishonest conduct by a Virginia lawyer whose law license has been suspended or revoked for disciplinary reasons, or who has died and did not properly maintain client funds. Awards are funded by a $5 annual fee paid by Virginia attorneys. Payments from the Clients’ Protection Fund are discretionary and are not a matter of right.