The District of Columbia Lath on Professional Responsibility recommends that an advocate be disbarred for adventuresome confiscation of funds due to a medical provider.
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The lath additionally affirmed a award of a non-waivable battle of absorption in an different (romance gone sour) matter.
In a affirmation brought based on abortion to accord a third-party action funder called Lawsuit Banking Corporation (“LFC”)
we altercate – but do not accept – the Audition Committee’s cessation that Aphorism 1.15 should administer to an another litigation-financing arrangement, in which an advocate undertakes a non-recourse obligation to pay a third-party lender a allotment of the fees that he recovers in a accidental fee representation. The absolute law apropos to such arrange is undeveloped, and the appliance of antidotal confiscation attempt to such bartering arrange raises beefy action questions. Because we acclaim Respondent’s abasement on different grounds, those complicated issues charge not be bound in this case. We accordingly abatement to acquisition violations of Rules 1.15(a), (c), and (d) in the LFC matter
But the lath had views
Here, as the Audition Board recognized, Respondent accustomed the funds claimed by LFC in affiliation with a representation. LFC had purchased an absorption in Respondent’s accidental fee accretion in cases he was administration in his accommodation as an advocate accepted in the District of Columbia. The gross adjustment bulk was paid, accordingly to Respondent and his client, in affiliation with a claimed abrasion action awaiting in a District of Columbia court. Back Respondent accustomed the adjustment check, he deposited the absolute bulk in his assurance account. A allocation of those funds was applicant money, and LFC had a aloof affirmation to allotment of the bulk due Respondent as attorney’s fees. Although Respondent acknowledged the bulk of LFC’s claim, he concededly owed it at atomic $32,000 beneath the Agreements, and he obstinately bootless to advance that bulk in his assurance account. That failure, as explained by the Audition Committee, abandoned the accurate authorization of Aphorism 1.15 and, after more, would assume to aggregate an advised confiscation acute Respondent’s abasement beneath the explanation of Addams. HC Rpt. at 78-80.
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My view: If one violates the “literal mandate” of any rule, one has abandoned that rule. Wishing contrarily for action affidavit (as set alternating below) does not adapt or alter the ethical obligation.
We do not believe, however, that the assay can or should end there. Respondent concedes that he bootless to escrow the funds owed to LFC, but contends that his business altercation with a bartering litigation-finance aggregation was above the ability of Aphorism 1.15. See R. Br. at 8-13. His altercation is far from fanciful. Lawyers and law firms consistently appoint in bartering affairs and, back they do, are accountable to the accustomed rules of the marketplace. A advocate who is claimed to be in absence on a business accommodation charge not escrow the bulk in dispute, on affliction of disbarment. The Agreements at affair in this case are bartering in nature. They did not affect any client’s banking interests, but instead were a baby sample of a bartering action allotment industry that has fatigued adult lenders distributing billions of dollars to backing a assorted ambit of lawsuits.
Application of Aphorism 1.15 to action allotment arrange could affect abounding of those transactions, possibly abolition them in hasty ways. We are dark of any administrative or antidotal decisions applying Aphorism 1.15 (or its equivalents) to such arrangements, and the parties accept candidly conceded they are acquainted of none.
The Audition Board accustomed as much, and attempted to circumscribe its appliance of the Aphorism to the specific affairs presented here, and not to “every bartering debt altercation by a lawyer.” HC Rpt. at 77. We catechism whether the Audition Committee’s cessation was correct, for three axiological reasons.
First, LFC – the “third person” with a aloof affirmation acutely advised by Aphorism 1.15 – was asserting its affirmation anon adjoin Respondent, not adjoin or through his client. The client’s banking interests were not at accident in the Agreements. Beneath those circumstances, the appliance of Aphorism 1.15 becomes beneath clear. The Court’s Aphorism 1.15 confiscation decisions accept consistently emphasized the axiological amount basal the Rule: aegis of the client’s absorption and th eattendant aplomb of the accessible in the acknowledged profession…
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Second, the appliance of confiscation attempt to the Agreements in this case seems beneath assertive because the funds provided by LFC were not “entrusted” by LFC to Respondent as a fiduciary; rather, those funds were beatific to him in his role affiliated to that of a bartering borrower…
Finally, there are action apropos that alarm into catechism the acumen of applying the abstraction of confiscation to action allotment arrangements. The Rules of Professional Conduct “are rules of reason. They should be interpreted with advertence to the purposes of acknowledged representation and of the law itself. . . .”
…Layering the confiscation abstraction assimilate the bartering action allotment exchange would assume to aggrandize the appliance of Aphorism 1.15 able-bodied above its axiological purpose, the aegis of clients’ interests.
In that regard, we cannot dark ourselves to the sanction applicative were we to acquisition confiscation here. In Addams and its progeny, the Cloister emphasized that astringent sanctions are imposed in Aphorism 1.15 confiscation cases, because confiscation ‘“strike[s] at the amount of the attorney-client relationship’ by abrasive the public’s acceptance that attorneys will accomplish their duties as fiduciaries in administration funds entrusted to them by their clients.” Pierson, 690 A.2d at 948 (quoting Addams, 579 A.2d at 198-99); see additionally Dulansey, 606 A.2d at 190. Whether the abrupt blackmail of abasement should hover over attorneys who access into bartering action allotment agreements where, as here, no applicant funds are at accident is additionally a austere question.
All of these difficult and attenuate issues present themselves in the ambience of an industry that is itself in alteration and of affair to courts, legislatures, and disciplinary authorities. Moreover, although belief opinions in some states accept accustomed such arrange beneath assertive altitude (see, e.g., New York, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, and North Carolina), others accept banned them (see, e.g., Maine, Utah, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia). Neither the absolute amends nor the ethical accordance of such arrange has yet been addressed in the District of Columbia.
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For all of these reasons, we achieve that the accordance of applying Aphorism 1.15 to the action allotment agreements in this case – which acceptation to be absolute by Utah law – would be imprudent, back the resolution of that barbed catechism would not affect our recommended sanction. See, e.g., Travers, 764 A.2d at 250 (leaving resolution of an affair for a approaching case area case law “sparse and inconclusive”). Respondent committed adventuresome confiscation in the Mack bulk and, for that reason, charge be disbarred.
Chair Robert Bernius authored In re Jonathan Dailey, which may be begin at this link.
There are no acknowledging or agnostic opinions.
The audition board had accomplished a adverse conclusion, acquainted (aptly, in my view) that the action funder had a specific adequate absorption in the gain at issue
the Audition Board concludes that funds in Respondent’s control from his Hedgepeth fee, the applicable buying of which was actuality challenged by LFC, should be advised no abnormally from a client’s funds or a client’s creditor’s funds in agreement of Respondent’s obligation to choose those funds in a assurance annual until the altercation with LFC was resolved.
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