Michigan Attorney Disbarred for Not Sharing Client Payments with Partners
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Summary: Though a three-member panel found earlier that testimony in favor of the good character of Shawn P. Davis and his clean record constituted sufficient mitigating factors to call for suspension rather than disbarment, the Attorney Disciplinary Board disagreed. The Board followed the dissent of the Grievance Administrator who commented that for 'mitigating factors' to be 'compelling' they must establish a causal link with the misconduct: "In this case I find it difficult, if not impossible, to find such a causal link between theft and respondent's good character and reputation."
In the case of Shawn P. Davis, the Michigan Attorney Disciplinary Board observed in its opinion that according to the complaint against him, Davis, while working as a managing partner for the Nolan & Nolan, P.C. law firm had misappropriated $14,060.00 in client funds that were due and owing to the firm. Davis was a criminal defense attorney and worked in the criminal and divorce section of the law firm.
Davis admitted the factual allegations but pleaded that his alleged misconduct was the result of a temporary mental disability. Davis followed various methods to gain wrongfully as alleged. The opinion mentions that "For example, if he received cash from a client, he would pocket some of the funds and give the remainder to the book keeper, stating that the client had paid in full. If the client paid by check, respondent would have the check made payable to him and deposit it into his personal account. Respondent would then either keep all of the funds and not open a file, or he would keep a portion of the funds and open a file, showing that he was charging and that the client paid an amount less than he actually received."
The complaint mentioned that Davis "knowingly converted approximately $14,000 on 22 separate occasions over a period of 3-4 years and across 19 client files."
However, instead of disbarment, the disciplinary panel suspended Davis's law license for two years observing that "compelling mitigating factors exist to rebut the presumption of disbarment." However, on review, the Attorney Disciplinary Board disagreed and recommended disbarment because there was no causal connection between the so called 'mitigating factors' of clean record, character, reputation and community goodwill and theft.
The Board observed, the "respondent was not stealing bread for his family; he was, as he admits, living beyond his means." The Board further observed, "When a competent lawyer who is well-known and perhaps eve well-liked, and who may lead an otherwise mostly respectable life, makes the decision to steal when it looks like he can get away with it, this may only prove that people are complicated and that some have the ability to compartmentalize. It does not constitute compelling mitigation."