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Skouteris v. Board of Professional Responsibility

2014 WL 686690 (2014)

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Skouteris v. Board of Professional Responsibility

Tennessee Supreme Court

2014 WL 686690 (2014)

Facts

George Skouteris (defendant), who had previously been disciplined for wrongfully withholding clients’ money, faced numerous disciplinary charges related to representing six clients in separate personal-injury matters. In each matter, Skouteris’s misconduct followed the same general pattern: Skouteris settled the matters and, without telling the clients, deposited the settlement checks; used the clients’ settlement funds for himself; habitually allowed the trust-account balance to fall below the amount owed to his clients and even into overdraft; and had no written contingency-fee agreements with his clients. When the disciplinary board (the board) (plaintiff) heard the complaints about Skouteris’s conduct, Skouteris offered a variety of excuses but did not take responsibility for his misconduct. The board found that Skouteris committed violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct by failing to maintain the necessary balance in the trust account to pay his obligations to his clients; providing incompetent representation; failing to disburse the clients’ settlement proceeds with diligence and promptness; failing to keep clients informed about their matters and respond to their requests for information; failing to have written contingency-fee agreements; failing to provide an itemized statement of the disbursal of the settlement funds; failing to keep one client’s funds separate from Skouteris’s own money; failing to cooperate with a former client’s new attorney; and failing to promptly respond to the board’s requests for information. The board applied the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, finding seven aggravating factors: Skouteris (1) acted dishonestly and selfishly, (2) had a pattern of misconduct, (3) committed multiple offenses and had been sanctioned twice already for withholding clients’ money, (4) refused to admit his wrongdoing, (5) victimized his clients, who depended on him, (6) was an experienced lawyer, and (7) was indifferent to repaying his clients. The board decided that disbarment was the appropriate sanction. The trial court affirmed the board’s decision, and Skouteris appealed, arguing that the appropriate sanction was five years of suspension with three years served on probation.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lee, J.)

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