In re PRB Docket No. 2014.168
DOCKET NO. 2014.168. Original Jurisdiction. Professional Responsibility Board.
Reiber, C.J. Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson, and Eaton, Jr., JJ.
Upon review of the hearing panel decision in this matter, the Court concludes as follows: The decision presents a well-reasoned discussion and resolution of a problem common in legal practice, particularly for small firms and solo practitioners. Accordingly, the Court orders review of the decision on its own motion, adopts the hearing panel decision in its entirety as a final order of this Court, waives briefing and oral argument, and orders that the decision be published in the Vermont Reports.
STATE OF VERMONT PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY BOARD
In re: PRB File No. 2014.168
Decision No. 180
The parties have filed a Stipulation of Facts together with Recommended Conclusions of Law and a Recommendation for Sanctions. Respondent has waived certain procedural rights including the right to an evidentiary hearing. The panel accepts the stipulated facts and recommended conclusions of law and orders that Respondent be admonished by Disciplinary Counsel for violation of Rules 1.15A(a)(1), 1.15A(a)(4) and 1.15(a)(1) of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct for failure to maintain adequate trust account records.
Respondent was admitted to practice law in Vermont in 1986, and in 2014 her trust account was selected for audit as part of Disciplinary Counsel's audit program. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) performed the audit for calendar year 2013, and as a result of the audit Disciplinary Counsel opened an investigation into Respondent's trust account management.
Prior to the audit, Respondent's practice was to reconcile her trust account balances with each transaction by making notations on each individual client's billing statements. She kept track of each client's trust account balance, but did not maintain a single source for all trust account activity. She used a manual check register, but she did not consistently record every deposit and did not always note client names in the register when withdrawing earned fees. She did not reconcile trust account activity to her monthly bank statement and did not reconcile the account itself on a regular basis.
Respondent was under the mistaken impression that earned fees had to be deposited to her trust account. She would deposit these fees into the trust account and then immediately write a trust account check to withdraw them. She now places earned fees directly into her business account.
Respondent was unable to provide documentation to the CPA for a $3000 electronic debit from her trust account. In addition, since her check register is incomplete, she is not able to preserve accurate trust account records for six years after the termination of representation as required by the rules.
Upon completion of the audit, Respondent sought guidance from several other attorneys on appropriate trust account practices and is in the process of hiring an accountant to manage her trust account. She acknowledges that her noncompliance with the rules was due to ignorance of correct ...