A single justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), located in Boston, has entered an order disbarring an attorney after finding that he used client funds for personal expenses. In the Matter of Reinaldo Gonzalez, an attorney stole funds belonging to three separate clients.
In the first incident, the attorney represented a man, who was injured in a car accident. After mediation, the attorney successfully settled the matter for $25,000. The defendant’s insurer forwarded a settlement check to the attorney, which he deposited in his lawyer’s trust account. The attorney was supposed to forward $11,500 to the client’s medical insurer to satisfy a lien against the settlement proceeds, but failed to do so. The attorney successfully negotiated a reduction of the lien amount, but never paid the insurer. He never responded to the client’s request for payment. Over the next several months, the attorney spent almost all of the client’s monies, and also never paid the client.
In the second matter, the attorney represented a client in the sale of her business. The attorney received the net proceeds from the sale, $144,025, on behalf of the client. The attorney made two initial disbursements totaling $20,000 to the client. Over the next nine months, he made several cash payments, and performed legal services credited against the funds owed to the client. The attorney promised to pay the remaining $62,643, but failed to pay any additional money to his client.
In the third case, another client hired the attorney to facilitate payments to a bankruptcy trustee, under a court ordered payment plan. The attorney received over $65,000 from the client, but did not forward all of the funds to the trustee, keeping almost $25,000 for himself.
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) initiated disciplinary proceedings against the attorney. He failed to respond or participate in the investigation and the BBO recommended that he be disbarred.
Justice Gants of the SJC reviewed the BBO’s recommendation and found that the attorney violated Mass.R.Prof.C. Rule 8.4(c) and 8.4(h), because he engaged in an activities that involved dishonesty, fraud, and deceit and conduct that reflects negatively upon his fitness to practice law. He also violated Mass.R.Prof.C. Rule 1.15(b) and (c) because he failed to keep trust property separate from his own, and instead used client funds for personal expenses. The severity and repetition of the attorney’s conduct, in conjunction with his failure to respond or appear at the disciplinary hearing, justified the BBO’s recommendation, and Justice Gants entered a judgment of disbarment.
Decision: In re Reinaldo Gonzalez