Allegations prominent Payson attorney Harlan Green took financial advantage of a mentally disabled woman, mishandled a trust account and neglected his duties prompted the Arizona Supreme Court to suspend his practice of law for six months.
The court also ordered the former Payson town attorney and leading Rim Country criminal lawyer to pay the $4,532 cost of the investigation and go into arbitration to settle fee disputes with three previous clients.
After six months, Green can seek a reinstatement of his right to practice law according to the ruling of the three-member panel led by the Acting Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court.
The panel regulates the practices of 17,000 Arizona attorneys and concluded that Green had violated several Rules of Professional Conduct including rules concerning communication with clients, fee agreements, conflict of interest, accounting, violation of court orders and cooperating with the court’s investigations of his conduct.
Last year, the state supreme court suspended 43 attorneys and disbarred 43, based on recommendations of the Arizona Bar Association.
Green on Thursday did not return calls seeking comment.
The longtime Payson attorney has handled many locally prominent criminal cases. For instance, he represented a Tonto Basin woman arrested for helping her son hide out after his escape from prison in 2010. Back in 2002, Green defended Payson Mayor Ken Murphy against disorderly conduct charges stemming from a dispute with Fire Marshal Jack Babb who was trying to enforce capacity restrictions at the Oxbow Saloon during rodeo weekend.
The court concluded Green had violated professional standards in four cases. The court’s conclusions included:
Trust Account 2004
Green failed to properly handle or account for money held in the trust account of a man who had a spinal injury and had undergone 10 surgeries in 14 years. The man hired Green to sue a home inspection company and the people who sold him a mobile home that had water damage and mold. Green ultimately won a $33,750 settlement, but mingled the settlement money with his own accounts and ended up collecting half of the settlement in legal fees and costs, according to court documents. The court concluded Green violated rules of conduct by charging the man his $260-an-hour rate for legal advice when he handled problems like broken pipes or talking to a credit card company. The court concluded Green had co-mingled funds and charged “unreasonable” fees.
Forming an LLC 2010
Green took nine months to form a simple limited liability corporation for a client, a deal that cost the client thousands of dollars in extra tax payments. Green collected $1,000 to cover costs and fees, but failed to communicate with the client, return phone calls or form the corporation in a timely fashion. As a result of the delay, the client ended up taxed for the transfer of trust property at a 50 percent rate. The court ruled that Green failed to distinguish between costs and fees, didn’t keep the client “reasonably informed” and neglected to inform the client of her rights.
Mismanaged estate 2009
Green failed to abide by court orders while acting as personal representative of a probate estate and didn’t satisfy his financial responsibilities to the client. Moreover, Green sold a car out of the estate to the mother of his daughter’s friend, without informing the heirs. Even worse, Green told Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill that he didn’t know who had bought the car, when the judge asked for information. The court also faulted Green’s handling of money from a reverse mortgage included in the estate and his record keeping concerning various assets of the estate.
Took advantage of mentally ill client 2010
Green failed to communicate with a mentally vulnerable client and took advantage of her financially, the court concluded. For instance, after the woman had a dream she had seen a dead person, Green charged her $260 an hour to conduct an Internet search trying to find the person. The woman was trying to get out of a violent and abusive relationship and suffering various mental health problems. After she filed for an order of protection, she allegedly became argumentative and combative with police who arrested her for disorderly conduct. She claimed that she was physically abused. Green failed to get tapes of her booking and arrest in a timely manner, ruining her chance of winning a case, the court concluded. He failed to keep her informed about her legal situation, didn’t clearly explain his fees, charged her his legal advice hourly rate for non-legal services and deposited fees into the wrong account.
Green identified his law firm as Payson Law Center, in violation of the rules concerning trade names.
The court concluded that Green “violated duties owed to clients, the legal system and as a professional caused actual and potential injury.”
The three-judge panel concluded that suspension is an appropriate penalty when a lawyer “knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed as a professional and cause injury or potential injury to a client, the public or the legal system.”