FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Marce Gonzales Donald R. Lundberg, Executive
1000 E. 80th Place, Suite 502 North
115 West Washington Street, Suite 1165
Merrillville, IN 46410 Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 45S00-0007-DI-445
GEORGE C. PARAS )
February 26, 2001
The respondent, George C. Paras, delegated to his secretary responsibility for making deposits
to and withdrawals from his office and attorney trust accounts. As a
result of his failure to supervise her in that task, numerous errors occurred
in the handling of those accounts, causing damage to some of the respondents
clients. Today we approve a Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for
Discipline between the respondent and the Disciplinary Commission calling for a public reprimand
of the respondent, his participation in classes on trust account management, and the
monitoring of his trust accounts for that misconduct.
Having been admitted to the bar of this state in 1980, the respondent
is subject to this Courts disciplinary jurisdiction. The agreed facts show that
the respondent collected a personal injury settlement on behalf of a client and
agreed to pay certain medical bills the client had incurred. Although the
respondent issued a $710 check to one such creditor in 1992, the creditor
never received the check. The respondent learned of the omission in 1996
when his client, facing a lawsuit based on the outstanding debt, contacted him
about the non-payment. The respondent failed to take any action in response
to that information until 1998, when he determined the check had never been
cashed. The respondent subsequently agreed to settle the matter with the creditor.
Between the date the check to the creditor was issued and the date
of actual payment six years later, the balance in the respondents trust account
dropped below the $710 necessary to satisfy the obligation to the clients creditor.
In fact, the secretary allowed funds belonging to many of the respondents
clients to be used for purposes other than the clients benefit. Specifically,
from February 1995 to June 1997, ten overdrafts of the trust account occurred.
Although one of these overdrafts was due to bank error, five overdrafts
resulted from the secretarys failure to reconcile the monthly bank statements and her
trust account records. Another overdraft occurred because the secretary deposited a client
settlement check into the respondents office checking account, rather than the trust account.
Upon discovering the error, the secretary transferred only part of the settlement
from the office account into the trust account. She disbursed from the
trust account the respondents full fee from that settlement, although the funds needed
to pay those fees were still in the office account.
Unbeknownst to the respondent, the Internal Revenue Service placed two levies against the
trust account in 1996 for the respondents unpaid taxes. Those levies caused
further misappropriation of client funds and only came to the respondents attention after
a client informed him of problems in negotiating a check drawn on the
trust account. The respondent also left large sums representing his earned fees
in the trust account during 1993 and 1994.
The respondent did not learn of these irregularities promptly because he never reconciled
his trust account or examined the check register or monthly bank statements to
check for any discrepancies. He also failed to take any action to
ensure that his secretary or an independent examiner conducted regular reviews.
We find that the respondent violated Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 5.3(b) by failing
to take reasonable efforts to ensure that his secretarys conduct was compatible with
his professional obligations as a lawyer.
See footnote The respondent was obligated to
maintain client or third party funds in a separate account from his own.
Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a). He also had the duty to promptly deliver
to the third party the $710 owed it. Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(b).
Moreover, he was required to safeguard the property of his clients with the
care required of a professional fiduciary.
See Official Comment to Prof.Cond.R. 1.15.
All of those professional obligations were compromised by his failure to ensure
that his secretarys conduct was compatible with the provisions of Prof.Cond.R. 1.15.
The respondent admittedly provided no oversight of the delegated functions, prompting long delays
in his discovery of the accounts mismanagement.
Accordingly, we also find the respondent violated Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a) by allowing significant sums
of earned fees to accumulate and remain in his attorney trust account for
See footnote Although the secretarys mismanagement of the accounts directly prompted the
misconduct, the respondent nonetheless is culpable. A lawyer is responsible for all
of the professional actions of a legal assistant performing legal assistant services at
the lawyers direction.
Use of Legal Assistants, Guideline 9.1, Rules of Professional
We must now determine an appropriate sanction. In doing so, we consider
the misconduct, the respondents state of mind underlying the misconduct, the duty of
this court to preserve the integrity of the profession, the risk to the
public in allowing the respondent to continue in practice, and any mitigating or
aggravating factors. Matter of Mears, 723 N.E.2d 873 (Ind. 2000).
We note as a mitigating circumstance that the respondent has not been professionally
disciplined previously. Moreover, the respondent terminated his secretarys employment immediately upon learning
of her funds mismanagement. Immediately thereafter, the respondent assumed sole control over
his trust account transactions and remains the only authorized signatory on the trust
account. The respondent also has hired an accountant who reconciles the trust
account on a monthly basis. Finally, the respondent cooperated fully with the
Commission throughout its investigation and has expressed remorse with regard to his misconduct.
We note that the respondents actions reflect his recognition of his wrongdoing
and his willingness to adjust his conduct to conform to the Rules of
Professional Conduct. Moreover, this case does not involve allegations of purposeful mishandling
of client funds by the respondent or the loss of any funds to
the respondents clients or third parties. Therefore, we approve the agreed sanction
of a public reprimand and the further requirements that the respondent obtain instruction
on trust account management and submit his trust account to independent auditing for
Accordingly, the respondent, George C. Paras, is hereby reprimanded and admonished for the
misconduct described above. We further order that the respondent attend a continuing
legal education course on trust account management within six months after the date
of this opinion and certify in writing to the Executive Secretary of the
Commission within 30 days after attendance that he has completed the course.
We also order the respondent to submit his trust account to audit by
an independent certified public accountant on at least a quarterly basis for a
period of one year following the date of this opinion. The respondent
shall promptly submit copies of each audit report to the Executive Secretary of
the Commission. Any irregularities noted in the audit reports may provide, if
warranted, the basis for new disciplinary charges against the respondent.
The Clerk of this Court is directed to provide notice of this order
in accordance with Admis.Disc.R. 23(3)(d) and to provide the Clerk of the United
States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Clerk of each of
the United States District Courts in this state, and the Clerk of each
of the United States Bankruptcy Courts in this state with the last known
address of the respondent as reflected in the records of the Clerk.
Costs of this proceeding are assessed against the respondent.
Shepard, C.J., and Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Dickson and Sullivan, JJ., dissent, believing the sanction to be inadequate.
Prof.Cond.R. 5.3 provides in relevant part:
With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or
associated with a lawyer: . . .
(b) A lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the
nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the
persons conduct is compatible with the professional
obligations of the lawyer . . .
Footnote: Prof.Cond.R. 1.15(a) provides in relevant part:
A lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons that is
in a lawyers possession in connection with a representation
separate from the lawyers own property. Funds shall be kept
in a separate account . . . .