The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), located in Boston, has entered an order disbarring a Massachusetts attorney after finding that she deposited client funds into her personal bank account and used the money for personal expenses. In the Matter of Wendy Jane Rickles, an attorney stole funds from two separate clients, and provided false information to two tribunals.
The first client hired the attorney to represent him in his divorce proceedings and paid her a retainer fee. The attorney deposited the money into her personal checking account, instead of her Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account (“IOLTA”), as required by the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. The attorney negotiated a settlement of the divorce, but failed to timely disburse funds awarded to the client.
Shortly after the divorce was final, the client initiated attorney’s fee dispute proceedings with the Massachusetts State Bar Association Fee Arbitration Board, claiming that the attorney had not earned the entire retainer amount, in part because the attorney failed to provide the client with any itemized billing statements during the course of her representation. The attorney did produce a recreated statement to the Arbitration Board.
The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (“BBO”) subsequently began investigating the attorney’s potential ethical violations. During those proceedings, the attorney provided bar counsel with a different itemized billing statement, which listed substantially more hours than the one produced during the fee arbitration. The BBO also learned that the attorney had absconded with a retainer from another client after performing no substantive work in a different divorce matter. As a result of its investigation, the BBO recommended that the attorney be disbarred.
Justice Cordy of the SJC reviewed the BBO’s recommendation and found that the attorney violated Mass.R.Prof.C. Rule 1.15(b) and (c) because she did not keep trust property separate from her own and used client funds for personal expenses. She also violated Mass.R.Prof.C. Rule 8.4(c) and 8.4(h) when she lied to the Arbitration Board and the BBO by altering her time sheets to justify her legal fees. Thus, Justice Cordy accepted the BBO’s recommendation and entered a judgment of disbarment.
Decision: In re Wendy Jane Rickles