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When Lawyers Become Criminals

by Brian Mahany, Esq.

As a lawyer concentrating in asset recovery and professional negligence (malpractice), I have encountered many stories of Ponzi schemes, frauds, theft and hundreds of tales of Wall Street greed. Sometimes the perpetrators of these frauds and scams are judges and lawyers. Thankfully those stories are rare but they do happen.

Unless we are the victim, we have become immune to stories of economic crime. Every day there is another story of a politician, banker or stockbroker stealing. So much so that we hardly notice. Some cases, however, are simply bizarre. The following three recent stories are culled from the media.

First, in New Jersey, Elwood Waltzer, a lawyer and former regulator with the New Jersey Department of Human Services was reprimanded by the N.J. Supreme Court for stealing from a blind vendor.14 times.

After learning of complaints of missing merchandise, cops set up a video surveillance of the blind man’s concession stand. Waltzer was caught on camera 14 different occasions stealing food. Waltzer’s defense? He claims the vendor was cantankerous and often couldn’t make change.

The censure doesn’t seem like much punishment but Waltzer lost his job and agreed to give up future state employment. He also paid the vendor $1200. That’s a lot of food.

Across the Hudson River, New York authorities reportedly arrested another government lawyer. This time for making threatening and racist phone calls.James Hennessey Jr, a lawyer earning $104,080 per year with the New York Department of Civil Service, made an anonymous telephone call and threatened to kill a black woman. Days later he threatened to “kidnap the little black boy who plays outside.” The FBI traced the calls.

Across the country in Phoenix, a hearing officer with the Arizona Supreme Court recommended that lawyer Charna Johnson be suspended from the practice of law and placed on probation. The state bar thinks the punishment is too lenient, however, and is reportedly asking her to be disbarred.

What did Charna do? She told a client that the client’s recently deceased wife was inside her and that she was able to “channel” communications from the dead. She apparently also asked to have sex with the recent widower.Nonsense, says Charna. That was simply the client’s dead wife inside her that was doing the talking.

Although there is a certain sense of gallows humor in these stories – “how low can they go” – there are many bad lawyers out there and the stories are anything but funny to the victims.

Some lawyers are simply petty criminals with a good education like Waltzer and Hennessey. Others appear to have psychological problems. Most, however, are either grossly incompetent or greedy. Shoddy legal work, false billing and attempting to represent both sides in a dispute (conflicts of interest) happen all too frequently.

Whatever the cause, when lawyers turn to crime, the clients and public both suffer. Unfortunately the actions of a few bad lawyers taint the entire profession and undermine confidence in our justice system.

If you have been victimized by any type of profesional, don’t be embarassed. Be angry. At Mahany & Ertl, we concentrate in asset recovery and fraud recovery cases. This includes legal mapractice, professional negligence and stockbroker and bank fraud. Contact Brian Mahany for an informal, no nonsense consultation. Brian can be reached at (414) 704-6731 or through the website,

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