New York, USA — A Jamaican-born attorney based here is fighting a disbarment order by the Appellate Division of the Second Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court, on allegations that she misappropriated proceeds from the sale of a property on behalf of an elderly client.
The attorney, Audrey A Thomas, is contending in an appeal filed on November 23, 2022 that her disbarment "is not only retaliatory and should be set aside, but that I was denied the right of due process by Judge Roger Adler the court-appointed referee".
The case has its genesis in October of 2018, when Thomas was served with three counts of professional misconduct, according to court documents obtained by the Jamaica Observer.
The court alleges in count one that the respondent "misappropriated funds entrusted to her as a fiduciary incident to her practise of law, in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct ([PC]", while count two alleges that "Thomas made 12 improper withdrawals from an escrow account totalling US$64,000, also in violation of the RPC".
Count three charged Thomas with "failure to maintain the required book-keeping records for two escrow accounts and failure to maintain a contemporaneous ledger or similar records showing the date, source, and description of each item deposited, and the date, payee, and purpose of each withdrawal or disbursement for both accounts".
According to the court records, Thomas responded to the charges on December 6, 2018, but a subsequent statement which the court said contained "disputed and undisputed facts which the respondent did not challenge, subsequently led to the matter being referred to Roger Alder to hear and report".
Following a hearing spanning 15 separate dates between July 2019 and December 2020, "the Special Referee filed a report on April 21, 2021 in which he sustained all three charges," the court document reveal.
During the hearing, the court laid out several instances of what it described as "unauthorised withdrawals and disbursement of funds by respondent", from the account of Shea Murray, her elderly client, which the court said Murray testified she did not authorise.
Two of Murray's daughters testified that they met with the respondent in 2016 to discuss the whereabouts of their mother's money, the court document said. That meeting allegedly resulted in a confession by respondent "that she invested their mother's money in her name".
The respondent also advanced the possibility of a payment plan and a promise to pay the money back, the daughters said in the court document. However, only $31,000 of the amount was repaid up to the time of the hearing.
In a robust defence and denial of the accusations, Thomas in her appeal claimed the Appellate Division had engaged in actions that "constitute cruel and inhumane treatment" towards her, and that her disbarment was leaked to the media before "I was informed".
The Tivoli Gardens-born Thomas said that: "Exculpatory evidence which served to establish conclusively that there was no misappropriation of funds, cash withdrawals, or other actions as claimed by the Grievance Committee of the Court was dismissed by Judge Adler, even though the evidence was presented."
As an example, she said, several cheques that proved the money was used on Murray's mortgage payments "were rejected by Referee Adler, although they were certified copies of bank cheques".
Thomas described the court's order and opinion which led to her disbarment as "grossly inaccurate and simply a repeat of the misapplication of the facts outlined in Referee Adler's report", noting that Murray was yet to sign any of the documents that led to her disbarment."
In an interview with the Observer, Thomas said she has had a 30-year-long mother-daughter relationship with Murray and that the allegations against her came six years after the transaction took place and a falling out between Murray's children and herself.
She vowed to continue to fight vigorously to have the Court of Appeals review and reverse her disbarment.