Law firm boss admonished for not catching billing errors sooner

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 11, 2011

CHARLESTON – Despite his disclosure of Richard Lancianese's billing errors, Roy Baker still was sanctioned for allowing it to happen.

The same day the Lawyer Disciplinary Board filed its statement of charges against Lancianese on April 6, it issued an admonishment against Baker. The action stemmed from the same complaint Peggy Muensterman, BorgWarner's corporate counsel, filed against Lancianese on Dec. 1, 2008.

According to her complaint, Baker met with Muensterman in Chicago on Oct. 30, 2007, to inform her an audit reveled errors in the way Lancianese billed BorgWarner. Though Baker maintained he informed her the discovery came following an audit by BorgWarner's insurance carrier, CNA, Muensterman said Baker "led her to believe," the audit was internal.

Nevertheless, Baker admitted he did not catch Lancianese's billing errors, which the Board alleged in the statement against him occurred between 2000 and 2007, sooner due to his "'minimized involvement in the management of the firm and supervision of the billing process.'" That included dealing with his wife's and elderly parents' medical issues and remodeling of his law office.

According to her complaint, Muensterman said during their initial meeting, Baker said he did not believe Lancianese was dishonest with him about the billing errors. Also, he believed Lancianese when he said he was going to make restitution to the firm.

Believing Baker would not report Lancianese to ODC, Muensterman filed her complaint against both in keeping with the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct requiring an attorney report knowledge of another attorney's conduct involving "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."

Though the Board found "the interests of his clients were clearly harmed by his failure to properly supervise Mr. Lancianese," it opted to admonish him due to his full cooperation with their investigation, the prompt refunds he made to BorgWarner for Lancianese's over-billing and having no prior complaints since his admission to the state Bar on May 15, 1979. However, in her closing letter, Leah J. Heimbach, chairwoman of the Board's investigative panel, warned Baker that "should he engage in similar conduct in the future, he may be subject to more severe discipline."

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