Lawyer is handed year in jail for stealing from young client KENT COUNTY

November 21, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

CHESTERTOWN -- A Circuit Court judge yesterday ordered well-known Eastern Shore lawyer James J. "Jay" White III to spend a year in the Kent County Detention Center for stealing more than $10,000 from a client's trust account.

Minutes before his sentencing, the once-successful defense lawyer wept as he told visiting Judge J. Owen Wise that his life and career had collapsed because of a drinking habit he developed shortly after he began practicing law nearly 30 years ago.

"I feel I have disgraced my profession. I have embarrassed my children. I've embarrassed my girl friend. I've humiliated myself," said the 53-year-old Kent County native. "I'm trying to regain some self-respect."

A jury convicted White in September on two related charges of taking money from the account of Larry Steward Jr., now 12, over a 20-month period ending in autumn 1990. The money had been entrusted to White after the boy's father died in a car accident in 1981.

Judge Wise sentenced White to three years in prison on each count, but suspended all but one year in jail. White also must pay $1,000 in fines and serve 1,000 hours in a non-legal capacity in the local Public Defenders Office or the Legal Aid Bureau.

Blaming his client's troubles on alcohol abuse, defense lawyer G. Mitchell Mowell asked that White receive a suspended sentence.

White has said he never intended to keep the boy's money. He returned the stolen funds to the Steward account after his legal secretary and another lawyer told him they had seen a bank statement indicating that something was wrong with the boy's bank balance.

A Kent County grand jury indicted White last year.

At about the same time, the state Attorney Grievance Commission began an investigation into charges that he broke rules of professional conduct.

After his trial, White was disbarred by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which brushed aside his contention that alcoholism had caused him to act improperly.

During his September trial, White shocked courtroom spectators when he testified he had consumed up to three cases of beer and as much as a half-gallon of liquor a day.

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