Where the defendant-attorney knew his clients lacked the capacity to understand either their representation agreement with him or their settlement agreement with the Town of Red Springs, it was dishonest for defendant to enter into the representation agreement, it was prejudicial to the administration of justice for defendant to have one client sign the settlement agreement, it was deceitful for him to represent to the court that the client had consented to the settlement, and it was dishonest for defendant to claim to a lender that he had explained the terms of the loan agreements to both clients.
We affirm the Disciplinary Hearing Commission’s five-year suspension of defendant’s license to practice law, its requirement that he pay the clients $250,000 in restitution, and its prerequisites to defendant applying to regain his law license.
After the real culprit had been found and brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown had been released after 31 years in prison for violent crimes they did not commit, defendant began representing the brothers.
The DHC’s findings of fact support its conclusion that defendant knew McCollum and Brown did not have the capacity to understand his representation agreement or the settlement agreement with the Town of Red Springs. Defendant “read news accounts of McCollum and Brown’s cases, reviewed transcripts of their MAR hearings that he found online, and did preliminary research on their cases.”
The MAR transcripts “revealed that McCollum and Brown had low IQs and were unable to understand the confessions they were coerced into signing[.]” Defendant represented in his petition for compensation that “both men had and still have limited mental abilities. Mr. McCollum’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ) has been scored at 56, while Leon Brown’s IQ has been scored at 54. Both of these IQ scores are within the intellectually disabled range, classified by some as mild retardation.” Defendant also acknowledged that “neither Leon Brown nor Henry McCollum have a concept of budgeting or spending limits, nor do they have any experience of budgeting money, let alone large sums of money.”
Dr. George Corvin concluded that McCollum “clearly suffers from psychological and intellectual limitations impairing his ability to manage his own affairs and make/communicate important decisions regarding his life without the assistance of others.”
Accordingly, clear, cogent, and convincing evidence supports the order’s findings of fact, and the findings of fact support the DHC’s conclusions that it was dishonest for defendant to enter into the representation agreement with McCollum and Brown; that it was prejudicial to the administration of justice for defendant to have McCollum sign the settlement agreement and deceitful for him to represent to the court that McCollum had consented to the settlement; and that it was dishonest for defendant to claim to lender Multi Funding, Inc., that he had explained the terms of the loan agreements to McCollum and Brown.
The record also supports the DHC’s restitution award. Defendant received $500,000 for preparing compensation petitions and attending the Industrial Commission hearing on behalf of McCollum and Brown. Defendant’s attachments to the petitions for compensation were almost exclusively the product of prior counsel’s work. The transcript for the Industrial Commission hearing is seven pages long and “[t]he State did not oppose compensation for McCollum and Brown[.]” A contingent fee for the representation in the Industrial Commission was improper because McCollum and Brown were “entitled to the maximum compensation authorized by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 148-84: $750,000 each.”
The $250,000 restitution payment ordered by the DHC is a conservative estimate of the amount defendant collected that he was not entitled to, and a generous assessment of the value of defendant’s services in the Industrial Commission proceeding.
North Carolina State Bar v. Megaro (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-191-22, 21 pp.) (Allegra Collins, J.) Appealed from the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the State Bar. David Johnson, Katherine Jean and Carmen Hoyme Bannon for plaintiff; Patrick Michael Megaro, pro se. 2022-NCCOA-718