Attorneys must adhere to a high standard when representing clients in any civil or criminal matter. They are required to zealously represent their clients and to act as a fiduciary regarding their client’s funds and assets if entrusted to them. For example, a lawsuit’s settlement funds or a criminal client’s advance payment of fees must be deposited in a trust account with restrictions on how the funds are withdrawn.
Attorney fraud may be committed whenever an attorney fails to live up to his or her fiduciary duty, or by their actions has deceived the client, another party, or the court. The attorney fraud can take the form of inaction, speech, silence, omission, gesture, or any activity that misrepresents the facts of a matter, is intended to convey an untrue impression, or is deceptive to the detriment of another party.
Further, offering a witness or client to knowingly lie under oath or to deliberately mislead the court is suborning perjury, a criminal offense.
Scams and deceptions that constitute attorney fraud include having a client sign documents that are deliberately confusing to them or which result in taking a client’s money without their knowledge or consent, or which turn over control of funds to the attorney by fraud. Inducing a client to include the attorney in a will or to become the executor is suspect and may be attorney fraud.
In other cases, receiving fees from a client and failing to perform the task expected or lying about doing so is attorney fraud. Misrepresenting facts or aspects of a case to persuade a client to prematurely settle a claim or case may also constitute attorney fraud. An attorney may defraud a client by having him or her sign documents that are for purposes other than what the attorney has reported to the client’s detriment.
Attorney fraud within the court occurs when an attorney files an affidavit or statement containing material misrepresentations intended to deceive the court or another party. Lying to a judge may result in a contempt charge and state bar discipline.
Prosecutorial misconduct may be attorney fraud if a prosecutor deliberately neglects to turn over evidence that could demonstrate the defendant’s innocence or lack of guilt; or who produces testimony from witnesses in whom he or she has serious doubts about their veracity. Although this fits the definition of attorney fraud, prosecutors are rarely disciplined for doing so.
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