Archive for October, 2012

The Supervising Attorney as Brother’s Keeper

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Yes, it’s been a while, but No I’ve not been back in the hospital. Thanks to all those who asked. I’ve been traveling to conferences and back to Maine and, thus, getting further and further behind in my regular work, so I’ve not been blogging in order to catch up. I’m just now getting to reading email and postings on other blogs from the last few weeks.

One topic that caught my eye was a pair of posts regarding misconduct by legal professionals. Normally when I spot a story regarding embezzlement by a paralegal I go on a bit of rant about the failure of the supervising attorney to supervise the paralegal. After all, the paralegals are not supposed to work independently. I felt somewhat vindicated in this position when I read the ABA Journal post on an attorney who was reprimanded for failing to supervise his own brother, even though he reported his brother’s embezzlement:

Peter J. Galasso, a New York lawyer, should have been his brother’s keeper, the New York Court of Appeals found Tuesday.

Anthony Galasso was the office manager at the firm that was then known as Galasso & Langione, and Peter Galasso told authorities that his brother embezzled millions of dollars from client funds, Newsday reports. Nevertheless, the state’s high court found that Peter Galasso did not properly supervise the work of his brother, who spent the money on Barbra Streisand tickets and a Mercedes-Benz, among other things.

So naturally I was ready to go on another tear when I saw this headline: “Paralegal pleads guilty to embezzling $311,000 from elderly client,” especially since it involved financial abuse an elder client – another area that easily rankles me (See Elder Clients and Elder Law category.)

But this one is a bit problematical. The paralegal was working at a law firm, but “Blood, 56, a paralegal at Hiscock & Barclay’s Buffalo offices … took on the task for the widow as a side job,” and began writing out checks from the widow’s accounts to herself. It’s not clear how this “side-job” came about. Certainly if the 77 year-old widow was a client of the firm and the side-job was known to the firm, a case could be made that there is still an obligation on the part of the firm to make sure its employee was not ripping off the client, but it is not a clear-cut case. The firm , “told The Buffalo News that the thefts from the heiress “occurred outside her employment” at the law firm. They also said she is “no longer employed by the firm.”

In the end, I have to agree with the widow: Trust, but verify,’ ” she said. She urged people who entrust others to keep track of their finances, even if they’re family members, to keep tabs on what’s going on. “Look at me,” she said. “I’m not a stupid bunny.” However, many elderly are not able to verify and do not have trusted family members to do it for them. So one can’t help but wonder whether the firm should have done more verifying in this case. I like to hear from anyone who knows more about the facts of this case and, of course, from any one who has a reasoned opinion on the issues it raises.