Examples of Claims
1. Claims for unearned fees
These claims typically involve the payment of a retainer or other fee to the attorney, and the subsequent failure of the attorney to perform the services for which he or she was paid. Evaluation of these claims can be difficult, and often require the Board to determine whether the conduct complained of constitutes malpractice or negligence, a fee dispute, or whether the facts presented should be considered the retention of an unearned fee, and as such, a theft.
CPF Board Rule 8 was adopted to assist the Board in making this determination by allowing the Board to consider the nature of the services provided by the attorney. If the services provided were "significant", the claim will be considered a fee dispute and will not be reimbursed. If the services provided were very minimal, or "insignificant", the refusal to refund the unearned fees will be considered "dishonest conduct" as defined in Rule VIII , Section 4.
2. Theft of Estate Assets
Claims of this nature involve the misappropriation or embezzlement of estate assets by an attorney, usually one hired to probate the estate. A large sum of money is usually involved in this type of claim. Rule VIII (E) requires CPF claims to be made directly by or on behalf of the injured client, and where such a claim is filed after the estate has been closed, the Board typically requests that the estate be reopened and the claim be pursued with the Estate as the claimant.
3. Thefts by Lawyer-Fiduciaries
This category of claims includes instances where a client entrusts a sum of money to his or her attorney for a specific purpose, but instead the attorney converts the client's money to his or her own use. The conversion may occur through the use of a power of attorney or some other type of escrow document, and often the victim is elderly or incapacitated. In some instances, however, these claims may be difficult to evaluate, particularly where the claimant fails to document the transaction or otherwise negligently entrusts money or property with the attorney.
4. Theft of Settlement Proceeds
Thefts of this nature occur when an attorney is retained to pursue a damage claim on behalf of the client. The attorney subsequently negotiates a settlement of the claim, usually without the client's knowledge or consent. In the typical claim, the attorney forges the client's name on the settlement check and keeps all of the proceeds.
5. Ineligible Claims
The CPF does not reimburse claims where the conduct involved constitutes negligence, malpractice, loans and investments, fee disputes, or claims where the client is dissatisfied with the results obtained by the attorney. The Board generally reimburses only the actual dollar amount stolen by the attorney, or the actual value of property stolen. Consequential or punitive damages are not awarded.