Lawyer sentenced for theft from child client

January 06, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

The city courthouse crowd knew Larry Shavers as an amiable and capable blue-collar lawyer who fought for the rights of Baltimore's poor and downtrodden. What the courthouse regulars didn't know was that Shavers would steal more than $90,000 from a murder victim's young son.

For that crime, Shavers has lost his career, his wife and -- as of yesterday when he was sentenced to six months of home detention -- a measure of his freedom.

"When this case came before my court, I was incredulous," Baltimore Circuit Judge Mabel H. Hubbard said before sentencing the now disbarred lawyer. "Larry Shavers enjoyed a marvelous reputation. The victim himself was so vulnerable, we were appalled and we were incredulous that the perpetrator of this theft was someone we had entrusted with so much faith."

The victim is Marcus Benson, who was 4 years old when his mother was stabbed to death in June 1991 in a reception room of a West Baltimore social services office. The boy's mother, Tanja Mertina Brown-O'Neal, 29, a welfare worker, was killed by an unemployed man with a history of mental problems. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke attended her funeral.

In October, Lawrence William Shavers pleaded guilty to stealing $91,000 including life insurance benefits and an award from a civil suit intended for the boy, who lives with his grandmother. The boy's uncle, Jovanni Brown, said the money was to have been used for the child's education.

Shavers' once shiny image was extolled yesterday by City Solicitor Neal M. Janey, who took the witness stand to recall a younger Larry Shavers' notable drive and tenacity in representing impoverished clients in housing court. Arrie W. Davis, a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and a former city district and circuit court judge, spoke of Shavers' conscientious representation of clients.

"Wiping the slate clean of what has brought him to court today, I would recommend him for any public office or any other office, including any office of trust," Judge Davis said.

The reason given for the theft -- Shavers' money problems drove him into a desperate act -- did not excuse the crime in the eyes of prosecutor Gary Honick. "All of us have financial needs from time to time, but we don't seize the opportunity to steal money from people who have entrusted it to us," said Mr. Honick, who urged that Shavers be sentenced to five years in prison with three years suspended.

After the hearing, the prosecutor wondered why someone in financial straits would resort to theft while buying a $173,000 house and keeping his son enrolled in an expensive private school. "After all the heartfelt expressions of support and sympathy and shock, we still come to the same point," Mr. Honick said. "He chose a particular lifestyle. He chose to support that particular lifestyle."

Before being sentenced, Shavers tearfully apologized: "I know what I did was a breach of a solemn trust. . . . I always felt that practicing law was more than just a profession. It was a helping profession, and that's gone. I can't do that anymore."

Court records show a pattern of financial mismanagement by Shavers, including judgments against him for failing to pay clients' bills. The firm, Middleton, Waters & Shavers, dissolved in early 1994, more than $100,000 in debt.

Judge Hubbard sentenced Shavers to a five-year suspended sentence, home detention and 2,000 hours of community service.

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