I’m finding that it takes a strong stomach to blog about lawyers’ ethics transgressions. Even though I’m careful and try to do the right thing with every action I take, I often feel as if I’m just a breathe away from tipping over to the other side. Maybe it would start with a small act of neglect because I’d be too busy, maybe a rationalization that a certain questionable situation was OK. And before I’d know it, I would be in over my head, tumbling down the ethical spiral and winding up like the lawyer in this article, Lawyer’s License Annulled, Martinsburg Herald (2/15/05).
The article describes the tale of a West Virginia lawyer Kevin Wheaton who apparently started his career with the noble goal of meeting the needs of the underserved African American population in Martinsburg. But noble intentions aren’t enough, I suppose, to keep lawyers from the darker side. Likely soon, the realities of practice – and then fear or greed or who knows what other force took over and the lawyer found himself charged with a litany of ethics violations, including lying about case status, failing to establish a trust fund for clients’ funds or keeping
clients apprised of the status of their cases, failing to advise clients
of settlement offers, did not distribute funds to third parties and
lying in the past to members of the disciplinary counsel when questioned
under oath, records state. And two felony counts of writing worthless checks. As a result of the violations, Wheaton’s license will be annulled.
What I wonder is whether this lawyer could have been saved? Could bar programs and help from colleagues or other services prevented this downward spiral? Or are some lawyers just inherently bad and prone to these types of temptation? Let me know what you think.