BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
In the Matter of
Robert Michael Short
VSB Docket No: 03-000-2726
ORDER OF REVOCATION
THIS MATTER came before the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board (hereinafter referred to as the "Board"), sitting at the State Corporation Commission, Courtroom A, Tyler Building, in Richmond, Virginia, on March 28, 2003, upon a Petition for Expedited Hearing and Summary Suspension before a duly convened panel consisting of Roscoe B. Stephenson, III, presiding, and Lay Member Chester Cahoon, Larry B. Kirksey, Joseph R. Lassiter, Jr., and H. Taylor Williams, IV. The Virginia State Bar (hereinafter referred to as the "Bar") was represented by Noel D. Sengel, Esquire. The Respondent, Robert Michael Short (hereinafter referred to as the "Respondent") did not appear at the hearing. Comiller T. Boyd, Chandler & Halasz, Registered Professional Reporters, P. O. Box 9349, Richmond, Virginia 23227 (phone number 804-730-1222), recorded the hearing after being duly sworn by the Chair. The panel was polled to determine whether any member had any business or financial interest or bias that would impair his ability to hear this matter fairly and impartially. Each member, including the Chair, responded in the negative.
Following a hearing on the evidence, the Board made the following findings as to the matter by clear and convincing evidence:
1. The Respondent was licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia on October 18, 1996, and, as of the date of the filing of the petition herein, was licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
2. On the afternoon of March 6, 2003, a member of the law firm of Trapeni, Romero & Morrison, P.C., located at 2565 Chain Bridge Road, Vienna, Virginia 22181, contacted the Virginia State Bar to report that the Respondent, an attorney who rented an office from the law firm, was missing and clients were calling and were stopping by the office asking for him. The Respondent had not been seen in the office since February 21, 2003, and had left no message stating he would be out of the office for any reason. The Respondent shared a receptionist with the law firm, but no support staff, and was not a member or employee of the law firm. The law firm had contacted the Respondent's former wife in an attempt to locate him but had been unable to find him.
3. Early on the following morning of March 7, 2003, James W. Henderson, investigator for the Bar, spoke with Thomas Morrison of the law firm who reported, then, a sizable theft from and an apparent forgery of the law firm’s two trust accounts. Mr. Morrison had reviewed statements for his firm's trust accounts, recently received, and discovered five checks, payable to Robert M. Short, Esquire, in the total amount of $439,006.41, drawn on the law firm trust accounts and bearing the forged signature of Joseph T. Trapeni, Jr., a proper member of the firm. The law firm contacted its banks and a fraud investigation was begun.
4. Investigation disclosed that a deposit in the amount of $436,006.41 was made to the Respondent's trust account on February 20, 2003, the day before his disappearance, apparently in a split deposit with $3,000.00 being received in cash. The Respondent was not entitled to receive any funds from the law firm and there was no reason he should have had checks from the law firm made out to him for deposit to his own trust account. All but $1,059.18 of the funds which were deposited on February 20, 2003, have since been transferred out of the Respondent's trust account to another unknown checking account. The last transfer of funds out of the Respondent's trust account was in the amount of $167,947.23 on February 28, 2003, from a location in Nevada.
5. Further investigation also determined that the Respondent had been arrested in Thomas County, Kansas, near the Colorado border on February 27, 2003, for misdemeanor drug possession and had been released, unfortunately, after a brief period of detention. At the time of the Respondent's arrest, $207,700.00 in cash and a .357 caliber Sigsauer semi-automatic handgun were seized from the trunk of his car.
6. Additional investigation revealed that the Respondent had rented a 1999 Camry from Rent-A-Wreck car rental agency in Falls Church, Virginia, on February 24, 2003, which was to be returned by March 3, 2003. The Respondent never returned the car and the rental agency has heard nothing further from him.
7. On March 12, 2003, a receiver was appointed by the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. Subsequently, the receiver discovered the existence of a number of open, active client files.
Based upon the evidence presented, the Board finds by clear and convincing evidence that Robert Michael Short has abandoned his practice of law and has stolen funds from the trust accounts of Trapeni, Romero & Morrison, P.C., and has engaged in a pattern of deceit and theft, neglect and abandonment, and failure to communicate and is in violation of the following Rules of Professional Conduct:
RULE 1.3 Diligence
(b) A lawyer shall not intentionally fail to carry out a contract of employment entered into with a client for professional services, but may withdraw as permitted under Rule 1.16.
RULE 1.4 Communication
(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
RULE 8.4 Misconduct
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;
(b) commit a criminal or deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer;
(c) engage in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;
Based upon the evidence presented, the Board finds that the allegations that Respondent violated Rule 1.3(a) and (c) [Diligence] of the Rules of Professional Conduct were not proven by clear and convincing evidence.
The Board, having taken into consideration all of the evidence, found by clear and convincing evidence that the above-referenced violations have been committed by Respondent and that the imposition of an immediate sanction is reasonable and necessary. Accordingly, it is ORDERED that, as a result of the violations, Robert Michael Short's license to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia be and hereby is REVOKED, effective March 28, 2003.
It is further ORDERED that, as directed in the Board's March 28, 2003 Summary Order in this matter, Respondent must comply with the requirements of Part 6, § IV, Paragraph 13(M), of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. All issues concerning the adequacy of the notice and arrangements required by the Summary Order shall be determined by the Board.
It is further ORDERED that costs shall be assessed against the Respondent in accordance with the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Part 6, § IV, Paragraph 13B(8)(c), and the Respondent shall comply therewith.
It is further ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary System shall send an attested copy of this Order to the Respondent, Robert Michael Short, Esquire, at his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, at Trapini, Romero & Morrison, P.C., 2567 Chain Bridge Road, Vienna, VA 22181, and to the Respondent, Robert Michael Short, Esquire, at 2565 Chain Bridge Road, Vienna, VA 22181, believed to be his correct law office address, by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail, and that a copy be provided by mail to Noel D. Sengel, Esquire, Senior Assistant Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar, 100 North Pitt Street, Suite 310, Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3133.
ENTERED this ______ day of__________________, 2003.
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Roscoe B. Stephenson, III, lst Vice Chair