In a twist on the issue government ethics at the Internal Revenue Service (TRS), the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has disbarred an attorney who worked as an ethics officer at the IRS for diverting funds from a client’s escrow account in a private practice case dating back to 2007.
Diverting client funds from an escrow account for personal use is a serious violation of legal ethics that is dealt with harshly within the legal community.
The appeals court concluded that Takisha Brown misappropriated a client’s funds that should have been paid to the client’s health care providers, broke a number of ethics rules and showed “reckless disregard for the truth” in misleading a disbarment panel looking into the matter.
In the lead up to the court’s finding of fact, Brown had reportedly bragged to third parties that she would never be punished because her boss would protect her.
Brown’s boss at the time was Karen L. Hawkins, the head of the ethics office, formally known as the Office of Professional Responsibility. In a union dispute that year, Ms. Hawkins said:
“I expect nothing but absolute integrity out of both myself and my staff because I just don’t see how you can justify disciplining others for lack of integrity if you aren’t demonstrating integrity…”
In response to questions about Brown’s employment with the IRS as an ethics attorney, IRS spokesman Matthew Leas would only confirm that “Our records indicate that this employee no longer works for the IRS”.
Ms. Brown had her law licenses suspended for misusing money she won for a client in an automobile accident case. Under terms of Brown’s deal with her client, Brown was to use settlement proceeds to pay her client’s medical bills.
Instead, the appeals court found that Brown withdrew money from her client’s account for personal use and ignored repeated requests from the client’s physicians to make good on bills covered in the settlement.
In addition, Ms. Brown was sanctioned by the appeals court for willfully misleading the disbarment hearing panel when it began looking into the matter. In a 14-page order finalizing her disbarment, the appeals court concluded that:
“The record amply supports the conclusions that Ms. Brown intentionally misappropriated funds and made false statements with reckless disregard for the truth…”
When disbarment proceeding began last year, Ms. Brown told The Washington Times that she was just starting as a lawyer when she goofed up calling it a “one-time mistake.”
In her pleading for leniency, Ms. Brown said she had paid back the money and explained that at the time of the transgression, she was facing personal problems including a difficult pregnancy and marital troubles.
The court rejected these arguments pointing to her willful misleading of the disbarment hearing committee as an “aggravating circumstance” in her case.
The facts in the case are ironic in this sense.
It involved the payment of medical bills – a premier issue of the Obama administration and ethics at the IRS – the federal agency tasked with collecting the fines levied against taxpayers not in compliance with the individual mandate – the foundation of the ObamaCare entitlement program.