Hot Docs: Lawyer disbarred for being a terrible lawyer

March 29, 2012

disbarred LundeenIf you’re a practicing attorney, you’ve probably worried about doing something that could lead to a malpractice suit, a suspension of your license, or, worst of all, disbarment.

The case of Steven Lundeen demonstrates, perhaps, some of the most egregious behavior to warrant disbarment.

Oh, where to start.

Lundeen failed to appear for the second day of one of his client’s criminal trial.

Why was he absent?

He was arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession.

In the days following his arrest and failure to appear, Lundeen made “multiple false statements to the court about the reason for his absence,” and the court declared a mistrial (Lundeen later pleaded guilty to fifth-degree drug possession).

Of course, Lundeen’s misdeeds don’t end with not showing up for trial and lying to everyone about it later.

He represented a client in two unrelated civil matters, but “frequently failed to communicate” with the client, didn’t do any work for them, and failed to return one of the two files.

These actions seem pretty bad, but perhaps they don’t necessarily rise to the level of warranting disbarment.

But it gets much worse.

Lundeen received two checks from settlements, but failed to deposit either into his lawyer’s trust account.

He also issued a settlement check to one of his clients to whom it was owed, with the check being drawn on his business account.

The check was returned for insufficient funds.

His client later obtained a small claims court judgment against Lundeen, which Lundeen failed to pay.

Hot Doc: In re Disciplinary Action against Lundeen

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight – National Litigation

In another circumstance, Lundeen accepted $712 in advance fees from a client to cancel a contract for deed.

Lundeen didn’t do any work in the matter, and when his client demanded an accounting and a refund, Lundeen lied and said that he recorded a cancellation of the contract for deed.

Lundeen promised to return unearned fees, but didn’t show for three scheduled meetings with his client, and when his client filed an ethics complaint against him, Lundeen said that he would no longer refund the fees (and he never did).

He repeated this pattern with at least four other clients: he accepted advance fees but performed no work, failed to communicate with the clients, refused to return unearned fees, and made false statements to the clients.

In fact, Lundeen actually verbally and physically threatened one client who wanted his money back.

His money problems extended beyond his clients, unfortunately.

Lundeen received court reporting services from a court reporter, and racked up a bill in the amount of $924.05, which Lundeen, unsurprisingly, failed to pay.

The court reporter obtained a conciliation court judgment against Lundeen, which Lundeen, again, failed to pay.

Finally, the check he wrote for annual lawyer’s registration fee in June 2011 was returned for insufficient funds.

Since Lundeen made several appearances (or attempts at appearances) in court since that time, he was practicing law without a license.

To make matters worse for Lundeen, he was unresponsive to any of the notices of investigation or numerous follow-up letters sent by the Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility regarding complaints against him.

It’s very possible that Lundeen’s misconduct stemmed from his cocaine use, but that’s hardly an excuse.

Perhaps Lundeen, like many lawyers, turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with the high stress of the legal profession.

However, if this coping mechanism causes far more harm than good, such as seemed to be the case with Lundeen, you’re better off quitting the profession early on rather than leaving a swath of destruction on your forcible removal from it.

Hopefully, other attorneys can learn such a lesson from Lundeen’s case.