Bar seeks suspension of Huntington attorney's license

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 17, 2008

CHARLESTON – Until it completes its investigation, the state Bar Association is asking the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend the license of a Huntington attorney for allegedly transferring over $100,000 owed to one of his clients into his personal account.

CHARLESTON – Until it completes its investigation, the state Bar Association is asking the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend the license of a Huntington attorney for allegedly transferring over $100,000 owed to one of his clients into his personal account.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm, has petitioned the Court for the immediate suspension of E. Dennis White Jr. In her brief submitted to the Court dated Dec. 7, ODC counsel Andrea J. Hinerman said the allegations surrounding White's improper use of clients funds is so severe that it warrants the Court's intervention prior to the completion of an investigation.

"Due to the serious nature of the allegations against Respondent [White]," Hinerman wrote, "the Office of Disciplinary Counsel determined that the interests of his clients required immediate protection and that the Respondent posed a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public should he be permitted to continue to practice law during the pendency of the underlying disciplinary proceedings against him."

Specifically, ODC alleges that White, a sole practitioner who was first admitted to the Bar in 1965, converted $104,213.10 from a client's trust account into his personal checking account.

According to court records, White became the "approved attorney" for Security Title Guarantee Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland in January 2005.

On July 31, court records show, IndyMac Bank FSB wired White the money for Security Title. The money was the sum of loan proceeds for the closing of a loan for IndyMac's borrowers.

However, sometime thereafter, IndyMac cancelled the closing, and demanded that White return the money, court records show. After repeated demands from both IndyMac and Security Title that White return the money, White confessed he no longer had it.

According to court records, White on Oct. 1 still had yet to return the money, "but acknowledged his intent to return the funds in the near future." Apparently, First Security shortly thereafter communicated the matter to ODC as it opened an ethics complaint against White on Oct. 3.

About a week later on Oct. 9, a hearing was held in Cabell Circuit Court on a "Petition for Injunction and Complaint" First Security, filed against White. Though the petition was filed with the assistance of Joseph M. Farrell, with the Huntington law firm of Farrell, Farrell and Farrell, court records are unclear as to when.

Nevertheless, records show, White was aware of the hearing, and during the course of it, Farrell told the Court "that he had been notified by Richard F. Neeley, Esquire, that Respondent would not appear for the hearing and would not take any steps to contest the allegations." Two days later, the Court granted Security Title's petition.

In granting the petition, the Court ordered White to produce all financial records since Jan. 1, 2007. The order, records show, also prohibited White from transferring any real or personal property, and the bank where he has both his trust and operating accounts, J.P. Morgan-Chase Bank, from transferring any funds until instructed by the Court.

On Dec. 5, ODC filed a statement of charges against White with the Supreme Court. White is charged with "borrowing money from a client in May and June 2006 in violation of the requirements of Rule 1.8(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct."

In concluding ODC's brief, Hinerman wrote that JP Morgan-Chase Bank provided copies of White's bank records after ODC filed the statement of charges. The records JP Morgan-Chase Bank provided her, Hinerman said, show that after IndyMac wired White the money on July 31, he had a balance of $121,951.69 in his settlement trust account.

However, less than a month later, "Respondent's settlement trust account had a negative balance of $ -793.19. Along with "various other checks" drawn from the account other than Security Title and IndyMac, Hinerman found that "[b]etween August 2 and August 29, 2007, Respondent wrote fourteen checks to himself totaling $96,309.00."

"In this case," Hinerman wrote, "the evidence demonstrates that Respondent improperly and illegally misappropriated funds in the amount of $104,213.10 and converted the same to his personal use without the authorization of the rightful owner in violation of Rule 1.15(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct."

Because of his inability to proper handle the money provided to him by IndyMac, Hinerman wrote "Respondent's conduct clearly demonstrates that he cannot be trusted with client money and should not be permitted to continue to practice law while the underlying disciplinary proceedings against him are pending."

When reached for a comment, White said he would be glad to provide one once the case is settled.

"The matter is in litigation and I'm prohibited from talking with you about it," White said. "Once this matter is over, I'll be willing to talk with you."

The case is on the Court's argument docket for Tuesday, Jan. 22.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Case No. 33649

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