One Chance Too Many: Pennsylvania Lawyer Suspended after Repeat Thefts by Employee
A Pennsylvania lawyer has been suspended
for thefts made by his “perfect secretary,” after he gave her a second chance after learning of her misappropriation from an estate account.
William T. Krzton
, of Allegheny County, employed Joy Hale, a nonlawyer, in a position where her duties included preparing estate administration forms, preparing estate account checks for signature, and all of the accounting for estates. He described her as a good employee, the “perfect secretary.” Krzton allowed her to manage the estates unsupervised. He failed to review or reconcile estate account records and statements.
For this reason he was surprised when he learned in 2013 that Ms. Hale had stolen $3,300 from an estate account for Krzton’s aunt. Krzton reasoned that the amount stolen was no more than the fee he earned on the estate, so he treated the theft as such and recouped the money from Ms. Hale by reduction in salary. He did not terminate Ms. Hale’s employment, remove her from handling estates, or increase supervision of her activities.
In 2016, a complaint from an executor led to the revelation that Hale had stolen over $96,000 from an estate. Hale also prepared an elaborately forged bank statement to conceal her actions. Further investigation revealed that Hale had stolen over $191,000 from seven estate accounts.
In spite of these revelations, Krzton did not terminate Hale’s employment for nearly two months. He explained he was busy with pressing client matters and needed her to train new employees, and because she was computer literate, unlike him.
The Disciplinary Board found Krzton guilty of violating several Rules of Professional Conduct, including those requiring maintenance of trust account records and supervising staff. It did not find him personally responsible for the thefts under RPC 1.15 or guilty of dishonest conduct under Rule 8.4(c). The Board found mitigating factors, including Krzton’s long career without disciplinary action, his general reputation for honesty, partial restitution, and his cooperation in the investigation of Hale’s thefts and the disciplinary inquiry.
The Board examined several cases in which lawyers had failed to supervise their staff resulting in thefts or other misconduct by staff, and concluded that suspension for six months was appropriate. The Supreme Court concurred and imposed that suspension on Krzton.
Neurodiverse Lawyers Have a Place in the Practice, Autistic Attorney Argues
Florida lawyer Haley Moss
did not take a conventional path into the practice of law. She was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three, and did not speak before that age. She learned to speak through play with toys, worked with occupational and speech therapists, and rode horses. A lot of her early language was echolalia—speech patterns and phrases often learned from other people, books, movies, or television. She did not develop the ability to speak in her own words until the first grade.
She found more comfort in writing than in speaking, and wrote her first book at the age of fifteen. She graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Florida, where she majored in psychology, because she believed that as an autistic person who does not naturally understand people, the study of the workings of the human mind would be her best path to understanding other people. At college she found that her passions were for writing, speaking, and helping others understand the neurodiverse community.
After college she attended the University of Miami School of Law, graduating in 2018
. She chose law because lawyers communicate both orally and in writing, engaging in persuasion and changing attitudes. Currently she is the principal of Haley Moss LLC, from which she engages in writing, speaking, and education of the public and the legal community on the challenges and capabilities of the neurodiverse community. She has written four books and numerous articles, and engages in speaking, teaching, and advocacy for the neurodiverse community, as well as serving as an adjunct professor at Taylor University in the Psychology department.
Neurodiversity refers to the concept that certain developmental conditions classed as disorders are normal variations in the brain. The concept points to the fact that people who have these features have difficulty dealing with some parts of life the way others do, but also have strengths. Examples of neurodiverse conditions include autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In her book Great Minds Think Differently: Neurodiversity for Lawyers and Other Professionals
, Moss argues that law firms can benefit, in business terms, from including neurodiverse professionals on their teams. She provides guidance for firms looking to add neurodiverse employees, develop better working relationships with neurodiverse clients, and create more supportive workplaces to help their neurodiverse employees succeed. She also argues that neurodiverse professionals can help their firms by providing alternate perspectives, seeing problems in new ways, and helping firms to understand and effectively represent neurodiverse clients.
In a Modern Law Library podcast
, Moss discusses her own journey as a child who was nonverbal to an adult with a law degree and numerous public speaking engagements. She provides advice for students entering law school or attempting to pass the bar exam, and for people who never received a diagnosis but have wondered whether they may have a condition such as ADHD or autism.
Although Moss is the first openly declared Florida lawyer with autism, many suspect that the incidence of neurodiversity in the legal community is greater than has been measured. A 2016 study
found that 12.5% of lawyer respondents to a survey about mental health reported having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, compared to an incidence of about 4-8% in the general population. Neurodiverse attorneys may already be contributing more to the legal community than generally believed.
Lawyer Escapes Suspension for Elder Neglect Conviction
A Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice determined
that the public interest did not require the interim suspension of a lawyer who was convicted of six counts of neglect of an adult with severe impairments. Lawyer Carlton Vose was convicted of the charges
after his elderly and disabled mother was found wandering in public on several occasions and living in poor conditions. She was expelled from two nursing homes, the first time after attempting to climb the fence, the second after pulling a fire alarm to make the facility’s automatic doors open so she could escape. Vose appealed his convictions, and also filed a civil rights suit against the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, alleging violation of his and his mother’s rights.
Justice Scott L. Kafker defined his role as determining whether the public interest required that Vose be suspended while appeals and disciplinary proceedings were pending. He noted that Vose’s crimes were not related to his practice, and that they did not involve interference with the administration of justice, dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. He determined that the interest of the public did not require Vose’s interim suspension.
He did, however, note the potential for clients to be adversely affected if they were unaware of Vose’s legal problems, or if they unknowingly entered into a representation that would be disrupted if Vose were ultimately suspended or disbarred. He concluded that the protection of the public would best be served by requiring Vose to disclose to present and future clients that he had been convicted of the offenses, and that he may face imprisonment or removal from the practice of law. He was also required to make this disclosure to counsel for all parties in pending matters. Justice Kafker denied the motion for interim suspension without prejudice, noting that it could be reviewed if events showed a risk to the public, with Vose’s compliance with the disclosure requirement as a relevant factor.
John Morton-Finney: Education Never Ends
This month we salute Indiana attorney John Morton-Finney
. He was born in 1889, the son of a former slave. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the 24th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army and fought in the Philippines. After being honorably discharged from the army in 1914, he earned his first degree in 1916 from Lincoln College in Jefferson City, Missouri.
During this period he married and began teaching to support his family. He taught at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Eventually, Morton-Finney became the dean of foreign languages at the high school and taught African American youth the importance of quality education for 47 years.
Despite his full-time employment, he continued his education. He successfully completed all of the degree requirements to receive his Ph.D. in Education at Indiana University, but he decided to turn down the degree. He then undertook the study of law, and earned his first law degree from Lincoln College in 1935 at the age of 46. He was admitted to the Indiana bar and went into private practice. He earned a J.D. from Indiana University in 1946 at the age of 57, and another academic degree from Butler University at the age of 75.
Morton-Finney argued cases before the Indiana Supreme Court. In 1972, at the age of 83, he was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court. He was inducted to the National Bar Association Hall of Fame in 1991.
He did not give up his lifelong quest for education. At age 96, he earned his Doctor of Letters degree through Lincoln College (now University).
He continued to practice law nearly until the end of his life. He finally retired in 1996. At that point he had been continuously practicing law for 61 years, after being first licensed at the age of 46. At age 107, he was one of the oldest practicing attorneys in the history of the United States.
Dr. John Morton-Finney died on January 28, 1998, at the age of 108. He once said of his lifelong devotion to learning, “I never stop studying. There’s always lots to learn. When you stop learning, that’s about the end of you.”
“The Client Will Do You in Every Time”: Tales of Self-Sabotage
As the saying goes, “The client will do you in every time.” Surely every practicing attorney has tales of cases that were blown up because the client just had to say or do something against legal advice. Here
is a slideshow of attorneys recalling instances when the clients were their own worst enemy. Sure, it’s clickbait, but still a fun read.