The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) has lodged a complaint against an Alton attorney, accusing him of using $60,000 in client funds for his own purposes.
Bradford E. Hunt was served Tuesday with the complaint, which the ARDC filed late last month and includes one count for conversion of funds belonging to a minor’s estate.
Hunt, according to the ARDC, became a licensed Illinois attorney in 1982 and practices at Bradford E. Hunt Law Offices in Alton.
The complaint alleges Hunt used his client's funds to make investments and pay his own tax and mortgage obligations, misconduct the ARDC asserts subjects him to discipline.
The funds at issue in the complaint belonged to the estate of Mitchell Harrell, who was shot by another minor child in September 1997 and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.
The complaint notes the shooting took place at the residence of the shooter’s parents, Ronald and Cheryl Thorp, and that the shooter’s grandfather, Eldon Fortschneider, owned the residence.
In August 1998, Hunt entered into an agreement with Tracie Harrell to represent her minor son and then filed a civil suit in Madison County Circuit Court seeking damages on Harrell's behalf, the complaint states.
Three months later, according to the ARDC, the trial court approved a $200,000 settlement that the Thorps’ liability insurance carrier offered and Hunt received $66,666 in fees from that amount.
The complaint states the court then opened a probate case for further proceedings and in 1999, Hunt petitioned the court in that case to accept a $1.24 million structured settlement offered by Fortschneider's liability carrier.
After approving that settlement, the complaint states the probate court awarded Hunt $350,000 in attorney’s fees and ordered $60,000 of the settlement funds be placed in his client trust account to pay costs associated with anticipated litigation against the manufacturer of the firearm used in the shooting.
The court, according to the ARDC, also ordered Hunt to provide annual accounting for the $60,000 that was ordered to be held in a trust and to return any portion of that amount not used in litigation against the firearm manufacturer.
In its complaint, the ARDC asserts that Hunt never deposited the funds into his client trust account, didn't file suit against the firearm manufacturer and failed to file any accountings of the funds in violation of the court’s 1999 order.
Instead, the complaint alleges, Hunt “used the $60,000 entrusted to him for litigation expenses for his own purposes, including paying personal tax obligations, paying down the mortgage on his home, and making various investments” even though neither Harrell nor the court authorized him to do so.
Harrell’s mother in July 2004 requested an accounting of the money from Hunt, who the ARDC claims told her “he had used the funds and asked her to ‘just keep the matter between the two of them.’”
The complaint states that Hunt agreed to repay $50,000 of the funds in monthly installments of $300, but never told Harrell’s mother that consulting or retaining independent counsel in relation to their repayment agreement was appropriate or necessary.
He also never sought an order from the probate court to make these payments, the complaint alleges.
The ARDC asserts that Hunt violated Rule 1.15(a) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct when he failed to keep his client’s funds separate from his own.
The complaint further alleges he engaged in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation and conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rules 8.4(a)(4) and (a)(5), as well as conduct that brings the legal profession into disrepute.
In addition, the ARDC accuses Hunt of violating Rule 1.8(f) and (g) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct when he made the agreement with Harrell’s mother and settled a claim against him when she didn’t have independent representation.
The complaint requests that Hunt’s matter be assigned to a panel of the Hearing Board, that a hearing be held and that the panel issue a recommendation of discipline if warranted.