An Indiana lawyer who used settlement funds for personal expenses, forged her paralegal’s signature, and lied to the state supreme court disciplinary commission was disbarred by the court.
“Put simply, the criminal and dishonest nature of Respondent’s pattern of misconduct demonstrates that she cannot be safely recommended to the public as a person fit to practice law,” the Indiana Supreme Court’s Tuesday opinion said.
Nicole Fraley violated ethics rules on safeguarding client property and those prohibiting making false statements to a disciplinary committee and committing fraud, the court said.
Fraley told the commission that two checks totaling about $7,800 drawn from settlement proceeds in a case were written to a church’s building and scholarship funds pursuant to the terms of settlement, according to the court.
But the court said those checks were used to pay for her children’s private school tuition.
Fraley also created a fictitious bank manager who she said audited her trust account, the court said. But the bank never employed this woman and the address Fraley provided for her was actually a wooded lot, it said.
Normally, in a case like this one where there’s no history of prior discipline and it’s a matter of “negligent accounting practices,” a probationary period might be a reasonable sanction, the court said.
But Fraley’s “criminal conversion of client funds, and her elaborate pattern of fraudulent and dishonest behavior during the investigation and litigation of this matter, elevate this case into an entirely different realm,” prompting her immediate disbarment.
The case is In re Fraley, 2020 BL 19094, Ind., No. 18S-DI-304, 1/21/20.