Attorney Who Misappropriated and Then Returned Estate Funds Is Not Entitled to Voluntary Six-Month Suspension

Georgia’s highest court rejects a petition for a voluntary six-month suspension filed by an attorney who misappropriated estate funds, ruling that although the attorney eventually returned the funds and admitted his misconduct, the violations of professional rules were serious, and the attorney did not disclose all his misconduct until the bar began investigating. In the Matter of Hine (Ga., No. S22Y0206, June 22, 2022).

Attorney Edward Hine was appointed executor of a client’s estate. The will authorized the executor to make loans. Mr. Hine advanced funds from the estate to his operating account without the consent of the beneficiaries. He repaid the funds and self-reported the matter to the state bar. The bar investigated and determined that Mr. Hine had also overcharged the clients for attorneys’ fees. Mr. Hine refunded the overcharge. The bar also found that while acting as trustee for a different client, Mr. Hine also loaned himself money from the trust. He repaid the loan after the bar began investigating. 

Mr. Hine submitted a petition for voluntary discipline, asking for a six-month suspension. The petition did not mention the fee overcharge or the loan from the trust. Mr. Hine argued that the fact that he disclosed the misconduct and reimbursed the clients were mitigating factors. He further asserted that he was planning on retiring. The bar agreed that while disbarment is the usual punishment for converting client funds for a lawyer’s own use, mitigating factors supported a six-month suspension. 

The Supreme Court of Georgia rejects the petition for voluntary discipline. The court notes that Mr. Hine’s conduct “represents a serious violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and could by itself warrant disbarment in the absence of substantial mitigating evidence.” According to the court, Mr. Hine’s “failure to mention the estate fee overcharge or client trust matter at all appears to call into question the validity of the assertion, made by both [Mr.] Hine and the Bar, that his supposed willingness to disclose his misconduct and accept its consequences is significantly mitigating.”

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