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News: Paralegal Blows Whistle on Boss Who Then Is Suspended

A paralegal who had once worked for an Iowa attorney decided to blow the whistle on her former boss, filing a disciplinary complaint that resulted in a one-month license suspension for the attorney.

The complaint filed by the paralegal - who had worked for the lawyer for 5 years - alleged that her former boss engaged in a number of improper business activities, including improper handling of client retainers.

The prosecution in the disciplinary case used the attorney's paralegal as witness, with the paralegal testifying that her former boss had failed to deposit a number of client retainers into her trust account.

Instead, the accused attorney had allegedly put retainer checks onto her law firm operating account and had put cash retainers into a drawer and in books on her bookshelf, and then used the money.

The court found that the lawyer, who had no prior history of disciplinary action, had failed to disclose her financial practices correctly in annual client security questionnaires. Due to the multitude of violations that the disciplinary investigation had brought to light based on the paralegal's whistle-blowing, the court found that a more severe sanction than a simple public reprimand was required.

The attorney's conduct was clearly unethical and the ethics failures occurred repeatedly over a fairly long period. As the court pointed out, in this case, "[t]he cumulative impact of all violations is an important consideration."

If the paralegal, in the end, blew the whistle, filed a complaint and even testified against her ex-employer, she chose to wait until she was no longer employed at the firm to inform the Attorney Disciplinary Board of the ethical violations that she had observed.

This aspect of the case illustrates the conundrum that honest and responsible employees can find themselves in: do what is right and expected and likely face retaliation and other problems, including potentially losing one's job, or wait, or even worse, do nothing, thereby becoming guilty as well, at least morally.