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Birmingham lawyer disbarred for misconduct.

Byline: Lee Dryden

A Birmingham lawyer was disbarred by an Attorney Discipline Board panel after it was found that he committed professional misconduct, including allegedly failing to apply for veterans benefits on behalf of a client. The disbarment notice for Alexander E. Kuhne, P 4132 (MiLW No. 12-96702, 1 page) was issued Jan. 11. The case was assigned to Tri-County Hearing Panel No. 77, which included chairperson Edward H. Pappas, and members Elizabeth P. Hardy and Lora Weingarden. Stephen P. Vella and Michael K. Mazur represented the Attorney Grievance Commission while Kuhne represented himself. The case The grievance administrator filed a three-count formal complaint against Kuhne, according to the hearing panel report. In the first count, he was retained by a company to hold nearly $125,000 in his trust account until he was authorized to disburse it. He allegedly disbursed the funds without authorization, failed to safeguard the funds and essentially converted such funds, the report stated. As for the second count, he was retained by a client to prepare estate planning documents and complete an application for benefits from the Veterans Administration for the clients elderly mother, who had serious health issues, according to the report. It was alleged that, after being paid a $2,500 retainer, Kuhne failed to provide proper and complete estate planning documents on a timely basis, failed to file the benefits application with the VA, and failed to return the original documents. The third count alleges that he failed to respond to two requests for investigation and failed to respond to a subpoena and demand for production of documents. A default was entered based on Kuhnes failure to respond to the formal complaint, according to the report. Kuhnes motions to set aside the default were denied. Based on Kuhnes default, the hearing panel found that he committed professional misconduct by failing to safeguard funds entrusted to him by a client, failing to timely provide proper and complete estate planning documents to another client, and failing to respond to two requests for investigation and failing to respond to petitioners subpoena and demand for production of documents, according to the ADB notice. The panel also found that he failed to provide competent representation to his client with regard to her legal matters; neglected a legal matter entrusted to him; failed to seek the lawful objectives of a client through reasonably available means permitted by law; failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness; failed to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the matter and comply promptly with reasonable requests for information; failed to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit a client to make informed decisions regarding the representation; failed to promptly pay or deliver funds that the client is entitled to receive and failed to promptly provide a full accounting of such funds; failed to hold client funds in connection with the representation in an IOLTA or non-IOLTA trust account and failed to appropriately safeguard such funds; upon termination, failed to surrender papers to which the client is entitled; knowingly failed to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority; and failed to answer two requests for investigation. Discipline Discipline was determined at a Sept. 15, 2017, hearing which Kuhne did not attend. An attempt to contact him revealed his phone appeared to be disconnected, according to the report. The grievance administrator introduced into evidence a 2014 admonishment of Kuhne for the purpose of showing aggravating factors. The admonishment was based on his delay in filing a probate petition, a lack of diligence, a failure to communicate with clients, and a failure to refund fees until after the request for investigation was filed. The client who hired Kuhne to secure VA benefits testified that she had to hire another attorney to complete the work. She said Kuhne returned her materials after the panels order. She also testified as to the stress that respondents conduct caused her. Standard 4.11 of the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions provides that disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly converts client property and causes injury or potential injury to a client. ABA Standard 5.11(b) provides that disbarment is generally appropriate when ... a lawyer engages in any other intentional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation that seriously adversely reflects on the lawyers fitness to practice. Based on the ABA Standards, it is the decision of the Hearing Panel that respondent is disbarred from the practice of law, the report stated. Possession of a license to practice law in the State of Michigan is a privilege to be possessed by those of honesty, integrity and requisite skills. Respondent not only converted a clients funds and neglected a legal matter entrusted to him, but he also failed to answer two requests for investigation and a demand for information from the petitioner, and he failed to appear at his discipline hearing. Respondents conduct, including his conduct resulting in a 2014 Admonishment, evidences a continued failure to perform at the level expected of an attorney and a lack of focus on the obligations inherent in protecting his license to practice law. Respondent offered no mitigating factors and no reason to believe that his performance will improve in the future. Accordingly, disbarment is required for the protection of the public. Kuhne was ordered to pay total restitution of $127,473. Costs totaling $2,517.4 were assessed. He cannot file a petition for reinstatement until he proves restitution has been paid. If you would like to comment on this story, email Lee Dryden at ldryden@mi.lawyersweekly.com.

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Publication:Michigan Lawyers Weekly
Date:Feb 13, 2018
Words:948
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