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Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 9477
Attorney Name Hart, Jr., Albert E.
DBP Docket No. 115 DB 1997
Supreme Court Docket No. 564 D.D. No. 3
County Philadelphia
Disciplinary Counsel Anthony P. Sodroski
Counsel for Respondent James C. Schwartzman
Decision Date 2000-03-23
Effective Date 2000-04-22
Case Digest Respondent had sole signature authority over a bank account captioned “attorney account,” which he used as an escrow account. Respondent also maintained a joint personal account, which Respondent used as a personal account and operational account for his law practice. Respondent was charged with receiving two settlement checks on behalf of a client and depositing them into his attorney account without promptly notifying his client of his receipt of the funds and without securing his client’s authorization to negotiate the checks. Respondent withdrew more funds than he was entitled to for payment of his legal fee and deposited those funds into the joint personal account before converting them to his own use. After receiving a third settlement check payable to the client and depositing it into his attorney account, Respondent, during a 19-month period, repeatedly made transfers from his attorney account to his personal joint account, thereby commingling funds with his own funds, and ultimately converted those funds to his own use. When the client contacted Respondent to learn the status of the funds, Respondent failed to inform the client that he had received settlement proceeds and deliberately misled the client. When Respondent finally paid the client, he drew against settlement proceeds belonging to a different client, and the check bounced, causing the client to incur significant return check charges before the client renegotiated the check and received her funds. Respondent filed two false pleadings with Disciplinary Counsel, therein denying that he had failed to hold his client’s funds inviolate; and claiming that he had his client’s consent to transfer the funds and that the client had advised him to defer distribution. Respondent later admitted that these assertions were false. At his disciplinary hearing, Respondent admitted that he had intentionally taken his client’s funds to ease his personal financial troubles.
Rule Violation(s) 203(b)(3) via 219(d)(1)(iv); 1.15(a), 1.15(b), 8.1(a), 8.4(c)
Discipline Imposed Three Year Suspension
Points of Law The Board is not bound by a joint recommendation of discipline offered by both parties or the recommendation of the hearing committee.
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