CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has followed suit with Maryland's high court to disbar an attorney for misappropriating over $90,000 in client funds.
The Court on Sept. 16 voted to annul the license of Cumberland, Md. attorney Nathan H. Wasser. The decision came eight days after the Court heard arguments why they should impose a lesser punishment than the Maryland Court of Appeals for Wasser's misconduct.
The Court of Appeals on Feb. 3, 2009, ordered Wasser's license annulled. The annulment came three months after his office manager, Sherry Yates, resigned, and filed a complaint with Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission that Wasser was using client funds for personal use.
In her complaint to the Commission, Yates said between 2004 and 2007, Wasser converted $91,000 from his client escrow account into his firm's operating account to pay personal and business debts. Among the debts the converted money was used to pay was a 2005 judgment for $24,500 in a disputed foreclosure.
In 1999, the year prior to his admission to the West Virginia Bar, Wasser focused his legal practice on foreclosures.
Citing no prior disciplinary problems since his admission to the Maryland Bar in 1976, Wasser asked the Commission to recommend a suspension. In addition to acknowledging his misconduct, and expressing remorse for it, Wasser in January 2009, sent a check for $183,633.99 – the balance in his escrow account – to the Commission which was later forwarded to the Maryland Bar's Client Protection Fund. & nbsp;
The Commission would only consider recommending a suspension if Wasser provided records relating to client trust account transactions going back to 2002. Since doing so would prove to be a difficult task, records show Wasser agreed to a voluntary disbarment on Jan. 26, 2009.
Seeking a lesser punishment
Despite reciprocal annulments in the District of Columbia and Virginia, where he was admitted to the Bar in 1969, and 1980, respectively, Wasser hoped the West Virginia Supreme Court would show him some mercy. In addition to timely notifying the West Virginia Bar of his Maryland annulment, Wasser, 70, noted he's a West Virginia native, and current resident hoping to retire from law while still in good standing with the state Bar.
Records show, Wasser grew up in Romney, and now lives in Ridgeley, a Mineral County suburb of Cumberland.
However, the Court found his argument unpersuasive. In an unsigned, unanimous opinion the Court said Wasser's repeated conversion of funds over a three-year period is grounds enough to disbar him.
"Mr. Wasser, on a repeated basis, converted client funds to pay for his personal and business obligations," the Court said in its opinion. "The repetitive nature of this unethical conduct is not to be condoned."
Also, the Court said Wasser wasn't entirely remorseful for his actions. They cited an undated letter-to-the-editor published in the Cumberland Times-News where Wasser attempted to place the blame for his legal troubles on Yates.
"Shortly after his voluntary disbarment," the Court wrote, "Mr. Wasser published a letter to the community in the Cumberland, Maryland newspaper where he wrote, in part, '[w]ere it not for the letter writing of my former [sic] trusted and loyal office manager/Bookkeeper, who worked for me almost 20 years . . ., this matter would never have become an issue with the Maryland State Bar. Presently, I continue practice as a member in good standing in the West Virginia Bar.'"
"While Mr. Wasser professes to be remorseful for his unethical conduct," the Court added. "Mr. Wasser's letter to the Cumberland paper following his disbarment in Maryland suggests otherwise. As opposed to taking that opportunity to apologize to the community for his unethical conduct, Mr. Wasser instead appeared to be blaming his long-time personal assistant for turning him into the Maryland lawyer disciplinary authorities."
"Mr. Wasser fails to see that Ms. Yates, by reporting him to the Maryland disciplinary authorities, did more to protect Mr. Wasser's clients than Mr. Wasser (who was converting client funds)."
Sherri Goodman, a former chief lawyer disciplinary counsel, represented Wasser in his disciplinary proceeding.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 34742