Money issues too familiar for Huntington attorney

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 18, 2008

CHARLESTON – The inability to properly handle his client's money is a problem that seemingly has dogged a Huntington attorney most of his legal career.

CHARLESTON – The inability to properly handle his client's money is a problem that seemingly has dogged a Huntington attorney most of his legal career.

In its brief to the state Supreme Court asking for the immediate suspension of E. Dennis White for improperly converting over $100,000 from a client's trust account into his personal checking account, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel noted that the Court addressed similar issues with him in 1986. According to its brief, White, who was serving as a co-trustee of a testamentary trust for four minor children, converted $160,000 from an estate CD account first into his office account, then into his personal account.

Also, ODC noted that the Court found that White borrowed money from another client in violation of state Bar Association guidelines by not disclosing all of the relevant facts of the loan transaction to the client. In a per curium opinion delivered on the two-count statement of charges brought against him by the Committee on Legal Ethics, the predecessor of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Court voted to annul White's license.

Prior to the annulment, Ruth Persinger of Charlottesville, Va., and Ivan and Oscar Short from Lesage filed a joint complaint against White. Though the complaint does not go into specifics, Persinger alleged that White neglected an estate settlement for her with the Short's maintaining White pressed them into an "inadequate settlement."

Records show the complaint, which was filed June 6, 1986, was dismissed due to the annulment.

According to ODC's brief, White was readmitted to the Bar by the Court's order on Oct. 4, 2001. Subject to certain conditions, he was placed on five years supervised probation, which concluded on November 2006.

However, prior to that, another complaint was lodged against White for improperly handling money.

Records show that Joe S. Tagliente Jr. of Ashford lodged a complaint against White on July 24, 2003. In his compliant, Tagliente alleged that he contacted White, his second cousin, about referral to another attorney to handle a potential lawsuit involving his candidacy for the Boone County Board of Education.

After agreeing he would mull over some names, records show White contacted Tagliente about aiding him and another man, Gary Ballard, about starting a car rental business in Ashland, Ky. After some negotiation, Tagliente gave White a cashier's check on July 2, 2002 for $15,000 in exchange for White agreeing to repay him the amount plus a return of $5,000 and $150 in expenses in 90 days.

At the end of the 90 days, Tagliente began inquiring about his money. Records show White informed him that he and Ballard were still attempting to close the deal.

In addition to his complaint, Tagliente filed a civil suit in Boone Circuit Court against White. The suit, records show, was settled when White reimbursed Tagliente the face amount of the loan.

On Oct. 31, 2005, ODC closed its investigation into Tagliente's complaint Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Lawrence J. Lewis found that "the evidence is insufficient to establish a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct," because "[n]o attorney-client relationship existed between Complainant [Tagliente] and Respondent [White]."

Nevertheless, Lewis concluded his investigation by reminding White "of the conditions and restrictions imposed on his 2001 reinstatement, the violation of which can lead to additional disciplinary action, including further suspension."

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Case No. 17065 (1986 annulment)

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