CHARLESTON – A North Carolina attorney is accused of falsely billing a former client in excess of $100,000 while he practiced law in West Virginia.
The state Supreme Court's Lawyer Disciplinary Board filed a single-count statement of charges on April 6 against Richard L. Lancianese. In its statement the Board accuses Lancianese, 50, a sole practitioner in Winston-Salem, of over-billing a company he defended in asbestos litigation during a seven year period.
A statement of charges acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes.
$135K in over-billings
The statement, records show, was a result of an ethics complaint Peggy A. Muensterman, corporate counsel for the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based BorgWarner Inc., a manufacturer of automotive power trains, filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on Dec. 1, 2008. According to the statement, Muensterman, who works out of BorgWarner's office in Bellwood, Ill., after Lancianese's former employer, Roy Baker, alerted her of possible over-billing.
According to the statement, Lancianese began employment with Baker and Marstellar in Huntington in 1993, and remained with the firm until 2007. Though the firm bore his name starting in 1996 following Marstellar's departure, he was not a partner in it.
During his tenure at the firm, Lancianese represented BorgWarner in asbestos-related lawsuits. The statement alleges during half that time from 2000 until 2007 he "knowingly submitted false [and] inflated bills" to BorgWarner, and its insurance carriers.
The names of those companies are not specified in the statement.
According to the statement, Baker discovered the billing errors following an audit in late 2007. Specifically, the discovery of Lancianese billing two clients for the same event, rather than evenly between the two, led to additional findings of erroneous billings.
Following the audit, and Muensterman's subsequent ethics complaint, Baker sent two checks to BorgWarner on Jan. 21, 2009, totaling $62,017.57. Along with $61,732.68 he likewise sent to their insurance carriers, Baker was prepared in April 2009 to tender another $12,128.43 to BorgWarner.
According to the statement, the total amount Lancianese over-billed BorgWarner was $135,878.68.
The statement accuses Lancianese of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct that deal with fees and misconduct. The statement says he personally benefited from the over-billing as a result of bonuses based on billable hours, and a profit-sharing plan determined partially on the amount of money the firm received.
An evidentiary hearing is scheduled in Lancianese's case for Tuesday, Nov. 15 at ODC's office at the City Center East building in Kanawha City. Records show it is not only the first formal disciplinary action taken against him, but also his first complaint since being admitted to the state Bar on May 20, 1986.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 11-0667