Naivete Gets Lawyer Censured For Shady Real Estate Schemes
The transaction called for the Jacksons to remain in the house and make lease payments to Brown, though Brown had certified to the lender that she would occupy it. Garcia later testified that a sale-and-leaseback arrangement was discussed, but she wasn't sure of the ultimate nature of the agreement.
Two years later, Brunson approached Garcia to represent his wife in buying the house from Brown. The Jacksons had made several lease payments to Brunson, but the mortgage was in arrears.
At closing, Garcia's disbursements again were at odds with the settlement statement: $10,000 to Brown rather than the documented $28,212, and a $28,696 unapproved payment to Brunson.
An attorney for the Jacksons' bankruptcy trustee later filed a malpractice suit and an ethics grievance against Garcia. The Office of Attorney Ethics discovered the inconsistencies and various record-keeping gaffes.
Garcia denied wrongdoing but could not explain why the disbursements didn't match the statements. She said Brunson and Schaffer made those decisions.
The OAE sought a one-year suspension. The District XIII Ethics Committee thought 90 days was sufficient.
But the DRB recommended a censure, noting Garcia did not act knowingly or attempt to conceal her conduct.
Garcia "blindly followed Brunson and Schaffer's instructions" and "abdicated her attorney role," DRB Chairwoman Bonnie Frost wrote.
She "was taken in by Brunson, who was portrayed as a confidence man," Frost said. "Respondent did not seek to conceal a sham transaction. Rather, she had no idea what she was doing" when representing Brown and Brunson's wife.
She was found to have violated Rules of Professional Conduct 1.15(a), failing to safeguard client or escrow funds; 8.4(b), committing a criminal act; 8.4(c), engaging in misrepresentation; and 5.4(c), permitting her legal judgment to be directed by another.