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Curtis’ story is one of many laid out in a petition for disciplinary action against Hobbs. Records show he agreed last year to a suspension of a minimum of three years for a litany of counts ranging from misappropriation, shortages and failing to maintain trust account records to, in Curtis’ case, neglect.
Curtis said she eventually received a letter of apology from Hobbs and was paid her retainer money from the state’s Client Security Board. It was one of nearly $118,000 in payments made to clients in fiscal year 2012.
In a statement, Hobbs blamed the problems on a bout of depression and said he has since gotten treatment. “I encourage all attorneys struggling with depression to seek prompt treatment, as my years of untreated mental illness caused irreparable harm to both my career and marriage. Through no fault of their own, my clients bore the consequences.”
No firm answers
Recently, Cole said, disciplinary issues are more common among older lawyers, who may be practicing longer than they should or can’t afford to stop. It’s a trend Bibelhausen sees as well at LCL.
“Sometimes people should no longer be doing this work, either because the stress level has gotten so high, compassion fatigue or maybe they’ve just been doing this so long that they’re burned out,” she said.
In some cases, Cole said, there may be no explanation for the “dishonest motive, the troubled soul or whatever it is.” He guessed that if the numbers drop in future years, it will be equally hard to explain.
“It’s anecdotal, and we try to get out and educate, teach and prevent, but lawyer discipline is basically reactive,” he said. “It’s hard to know what’s going to come in the door.”
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921