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Former family law attorney disbarred for misusing funds, fraud upon court

By: Laura Brown//June 19, 2024//

(Deposit Photos)

Former family law attorney disbarred for misusing funds, fraud upon court

By: Laura Brown//June 19, 2024//

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A former family law attorney who committed fraud upon the court during his own divorce, among other matters, has been disbarred. On June 12, the Minnesota Supreme Court disbarred James V. Bradley from the practice of law.

In 2011, Bradley was admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota. Bradley practiced family law through November 2020. Before the petition leading to his disbarment, he had no prior disciplinary history.

Bradley was alleged to have committed several disciplinary violations, including commission of fraud on the court and knowingly failing to obey a court order, failure to cooperate with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility director’s investigation, failure to maintain required trust account books and records, neglect of a client matter, and misappropriation of client funds without making restitution or providing mitigating circumstances.

“Bradley violated numerous rules of professional conduct over the course of at least three years,” the court wrote. “As a result, Bradley’s misconduct was neither ‘a brief lapse in judgment’ nor a ‘single, isolated incident.’”

On July 20, 2022, the director of the OLPR filed a petition for disciplinary action. The petition outlined numerous alleged violations of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct. Bradley was suspended from the practice of law on Aug. 11, 2022.

He was given a year to file a motion to vacate the suspension and seek leave to answer the petition. The court deemed the allegations in the petition for discipline admitted, as Bradley failed to move the court to vacate the order of suspension within a year.

In one instance, Bradley held onto an $8,442.23 judgment that his client was entitled to following a marital dissolution proceeding. Bradley had received the money from his client’s former spouse’s attorney. Rather than disbursing any of the funds to his client, Bradley placed the money into his firm’s trust account and used the funds for purposes unrelated to his client’s representation. This included using the funds for his own benefit.

Additionally, Bradley did not properly maintain trust account books and records for his law firm. As a result, a full audit of the trust account was impossible. The OLPR director was unable to determine exactly when Bradley transferred his client’s money out of the trust account and exactly how much of the client funds were misappropriated. “Bradley misappropriated one client’s funds, though the extent of the misappropriation beyond that instance is unknown,” the court noted.

“At least some of that $8,400 dollars was misappropriated, because the trust account balance went below that amount,” Tim Burke, senior assistant director of the OLPR, asserted. “What the total amount of misappropriation is, among all matters where clients had money in the trust accounts, we just have no idea.”

With his own marital dissolution, Bradley committed fraud on the court. He made false statements related to a judgment and decree and defied district court orders. Bradley failed to give any of the sale proceeds from the sale of a vacant property to his former spouse. A court order, according to Burke, prohibited him from selling the property and doing anything with the money.

“Doing so against the court order, without telling anyone, under the table, for lack of a better phrase, Your Honor, that constitutes dishonesty,” Burke argued at the hearing before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Additionally, after becoming a court-appointed parenting consultant, Bradley failed to adequately communicate with parties in a family law matter. Later, Bradley abandoned the appointment without notice.

“Bradley’s misconduct directly harmed at least one client, who has not received the $8,442.23 to which he is entitled,” the court stated. “Bradley’s misconduct also harmed an adverse party—his former spouse—and non-client members of the public—the two parties to the family law matter for which Bradley was a court-appointed parenting consultant.”

Bradley failed to file a memorandum or appear at oral argument. The court was unable to consider any mitigating circumstances, as Bradley did not allege and prove the mitigating factors. Citing its 2024 decision of In Re Lee, the court averred that if there are no mitigating factors, misappropriating client funds warrants disbarment.

“Accordingly, we conclude that the appropriate discipline for Bradley is disbarment,” the court declared.

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