Court suspends attorney for misusing funds

John A. Hayes Jr. paid bills with client's money

January 19, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court suspended from law practice yesterday a longtime attorney for the poor who used a client's funds to pay personal bills.

John A. Hayes Jr., a Baltimore lawyer recognized as a Volunteer of the Year in 1999 by the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, can seek reinstatement after 90 days, according to the ruling.

The sole issue confronting the Court of Appeals was the form of the sanction, as Hayes admitted that he spent $3,500 he held in escrow for a homeless client on office and personal expenses.

Yesterday, Hayes said he was so depressed in 1998 that rather than go to the bank to move funds into the correct account, he used the escrowed dollars, intending to give the $3,500 to the homeless man once he located him. Hayes was under treatment for attention deficit disorder, which made money management difficult, he said.

"I made a mistake and I admitted it," said Hayes, who said his practice of 28 years consisted mostly of representing impoverished clients. "Do I think I did anything wrong? Technically, yes."

His bank notified the Attorney Grievance Commission in 1999 that Hayes had overdrawn his law practice account. His client was paid the $3,500 later that year, as Hayes tracked him down after the client left a homeless shelter.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court said that Hayes did not intend to defraud his client and that his mental and emotional problems played a large role in his failure to handle the escrow money properly.

Two judges dissented, writing that Hayes knew what he was doing in using clients' funds and that the majority opinion contradicted recent cases in which the court has said that misappropriation of client funds should result in disbarment.

Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the Attorney Grievance Commission, declined to comment on the opinion. The commission argued that misappropriation of funds implies deceit, but it did not accuse Hayes of dishonesty.

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