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Attorney Receives Private Admonition Sanction for Client Trust Account Violations

In In re: PRB Docket No. 2012-155, 2015 VT 57 (April 3, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a private admonition of an attorney, who violated Vermont’s Rules of Professional Conduct with regard to his handling of his client trust account.

Issue: Office of Disciplinary Counsel appealed a private admonition sanction where an attorney violated Vt Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 by commingling personal and client funds in the client trust account.

Holding: Affirmed.

More Detail: Attorney self-reported three violations between 1997 and 2011. First, he had a subaccount in his trust account for personal funds that he used to pay liabilities to third parties. Second, he had several bookkeeping errors resulting in funds being overdrawn. Third, there were funds remaining in several client subaccounts after matters closed, and some of the funds were owed to the clients. Due to mitigating factors, the hearing panel recommended a private admonition. After examining the difference between “knowing” and “negligent,” the Court concluded that the attorney’s presumptive sanction is a public reprimand, but that mitigating factors should reduce the sanction to a private reprimand.

Concurrence: Robinson, J. filed a concurrence regarding the presumptive sanction for different states of mind. She held that the presumptive sanction in this case is a suspension, but that the mitigating factors warrant a two-step reduction to a private admonition.

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