Employee Theft and Attorney Responsibility

/ 14.Aug, 2013

Barbara Kaplin, a legal secretary at the Connecticut law firm of Grady & Riley has been charged with stealing more than $1 million from a firm client fund she managed.  The state’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel, Patricia King, announced the firm will be investigated to determine if the failure to supervise their employee amount to a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  This is not an isolated incident.  Locally, Bonnie Sweeten, the paralegal/”Hoax Mom” who faked a kidnapping and went to Disneyland, was convicted of stealing from her employer attorney Debbie Ann Carlitz.  Ms. Carlitz faced multiple lawsuits due to Ms. Sweeten’s activities, and was eventually disbarred on consent.  In 2012, Mary Marra, a legal secretary at the Illinois law firm of Justin Tedrowe pleaded guilty of stealing over $500,000 from her employer’s account.  The problem is not unique to American firms, as a theft by Leanne Harris, an English legal secretary’s of over £400,000 caused the law firm for which she was working to go under.

The Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 5.3, require attorneys supervise nonlawyer assistants.  Legal malpractice avoidance and the rules of professional conduct require attorneys make reasonable efforts to ensure their employees conduct is compatible with the obligations of the lawyer.  Theft by employees can lead to disciplinary actions and legal malpractice actions.

Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire