Lawyer David James Steele, of Indiana has a lengthy list of reasons that he is being “disciplined”, by the Indiana Supreme Court. Chief among which is the fact that he misappropriated approximately $150,000 worth of client funds. He moved client’s retainers into his own personal account and operating account and even “peeled off” a few hundred dollars here and there to give to employees as a “spot bonus”.
Spending money that he didn’t earn wasn’t the only thing he was doing however. He admitted to a staggering amount of misdeeds in an affidavit of consent to discipline. Steele paid clients to write him favorable reviews and intimidated those who refused. The Yelp for Lawyers site, Avvo, has him with a 4.5 star rating, even while he is flagged with “extreme caution”. He even coerced clients into writing the reviews by threatening to release embarrassing confidential information!
Where things get extra squirrely is the fact that Steele communicated at length with his office manager, known as “JD”, about the theft and money shuffling.
In the extensive paper trail he admits to adding to billed amounts for work he did not do, “How much time did we put down for that? I think [I] only told you like 4.5 hours right? Well f*** that. If she wants me to split the cost of those f***ing transcripts [I] told her not to get, add another 1.5 hours to that line ok?”
If you were unhappy with service and wanted a refund or didn’t use all of your retainer? Easy! Steele neglected to return calls and encouraged staff to inflated prices of services. Occasionally, you would get a refund, but it would be taken from someone else’s retainer, of course.
His accomplice, JD, wasn’t happy when he was ditched after a few months. So, JD took all of his fun knowledge to the disciplinary authorities.
The betrayal incited a flood of threats from Steele. Through texts and emails, Steele tried to get JD to not cooperate in the investigation, told him he would never be hired by another lawyer, said he would physically fight him, and even took pot shots at JD’s sexual orientation.
Steele lied his way through the investigation too. Telling the Commission that he had fired his former office manager because he caught JD having sex with a male client in a conference room and that JD had gained access to the firm’s website to post anti-gay sentiments all over it.
Did we mention that he waved a gun at JD when he fired him?
Steele even shared recorded conversations between himself and clients with others, because he thought they were funny.
But, you know, he had good reviews…that’s what counts, right?