Lawyer disbarred for neglecting legal matters

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires
 
DETROIT — A Livonia attorney has been disbarred by an Attorney Discipline Board panel after findings that he neglected multiple legal matters and forged a judge’s signature on court documents.

The disbarment of Wilfred Eric Steiner, P 58631, was effective Jan. 7, according to an ADB notice issued Jan. 9. His license had been suspended on an interim basis since Sept. 19.

The case was heard by Tri-County Hearing Panel No. 22, which included chairperson Paula M. Talarico, and members Laurence C. Burgess and C. David Miller II. Sarah C. Lindsey represented the Attorney Grievance Commission while Steiner did not appear before the panel.

The case

In July, the grievance administrator filed a formal complaint alleging that Steiner committed professional misconduct by his failure to maintain personal integrity through the forging of a judge’s signature on court documents; failure to preserve client’s property by conversion of client funds causing harm to his clients; lack of diligence and a knowing refusal to perform tasks or services for which he was retained; knowingly deceiving clients; misuse of his IOLTA account; and failure to respond to eight requests for investigation, according to the hearing panel report.

The administrator also filed a Notice of Filing of Judgments of Conviction based on Steiner’s convictions in February and July of three separate instances of allowing an unlicensed person to drive. These misdemeanor offenses, in the 34th and 35th District Courts, were consolidated.

Steiner did not respond to the complaint and a default was filed, according to the report. An Amended Notice of Judgment of Conviction stated that the administrator received records showing that — due to Steiner’s failure to timely pay costs and/or fines in the February conviction — the infraction was increased to driving on a suspended license, also a misdemeanor.

Steiner failed to appear at a September hearing on the disciplinary matter, the report stated.

The panel found Steiner to be in default and that the allegations in the formal complaint were substantiated.

“Based on the arguments and evidence presented at the hearing, the panel had determined, for the protection of the public, that a suspension of respondent’s license to practice law should begin immediately,” the report stated. “Therefore, pending the filing of the panel’s final report and order, the panel issued an interim order immediately suspending respondent’s license to practice law in the State of Michigan on September 19, 2016.”

The hearing panel found that Steiner committed professional misconduct in his representation of nine separate clients and failed to maintain personal integrity through the forging of a judge’s signature on court documents. The panel found that he was convicted of two instances of allowing an unlicensed person to drive, and of driving on a suspended license.

The panel also found that Steiner: handled a legal matter without preparation adequate in the circumstances; neglected eight legal matters; failed to seek the lawful objectives of his clients through reasonably available means; failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; failed to keep his clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters and comply promptly with reasonable requests for information; failed to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the clients to make informed decisions regarding the representation; held funds other than client or third person funds in an IOLTA; failed to deposit into an IOLTA all client funds and appropriately safeguard such funds; deposited his own funds into the IOLTA in excess of the amount necessary to pay financial institution service charges or fees; and withdrew from a client trust account legal fees that were paid in advance before they were earned.

He also was found to have: failed to provide the Grievance Administrator a full and fair explanation of the cause of an overdraft and how it was corrected; failed to refund unearned fees upon termination of representation; failed to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of the clients; knowingly disobeyed an obligation under the rules of a tribunal; failed to make reasonably diligent efforts to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party; knowingly made a false statement of material fact or law to a third person; failed to respond to a lawful demand for information from an admissions or disciplinary authority; failed to respond to eight requests for investigation; and violated the criminal laws of the State of Michigan.

Other violations included exposing the legal profession or the courts to obloquy, contempt, censure, or reproach.

Discipline


The panel reviewed “the duties violated, the lawyer’s mental state, the actual or potential injury to the clients and the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.”

“Respondent forged a court document in order to gain an advantage in a custody matter,” the report stated. “Respondent knowingly deceived clients with the intent to benefit himself and caused serious injury to clients, not only because they lost money, but in some cases, they had judgments entered against them, or had bankruptcies dismissed.

“Respondent presented the forged order to an opposing party for the purpose of trying to get the husband to vacate the marital home and to give up custody of his child,” the report stated.

The panel agreed aggravating factors under American Bar Association standards were established, such as a dishonest or selfish motive, a pattern of misconduct and vulnerability of victims.

“Some of respondent’s clients were waiting on bankruptcies and told their creditors that they should contact respondent; respondent told his clients that no one had contacted him; and no bankruptcy was pending when respondent told his clients that there was,” the report stated.

The panel agreed with the administrator’s counsel’s request for disbarment. It also ordered that Steiner pay restitution in the total amount of $21,848.50 to seven complainants. Costs totaling $2,277.33 were assessed.

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