Disbarred attorney Paul A. Price was sentenced for stealing from his clients Friday but was warned by 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson that his real judgment day comes in September.
That's when the judge will decide if Price is serious about his promise to pay back $120,000 he still owes seven former clients.Hanson sentenced Price, 46, to a one-to-15-year prison term but allowed him to stay out of prison on probation on Price's vow to repay the money. Price said his new employer has agreed to loan him the money and he can pay the victims in a few days.
One victim and former family friend, Robin McCabe, said Price has promised the same thing for two years but hasn't paid yet.
"Paul, I only hope that when your son grows up he won't be betrayed like my son and I were," she said.
And prosecutor Ernie Jones said Price's promises also worry him. When some clients pursued their claims civilly, Price declared bankruptcy to avoid payment, Jones said.
Price pleaded guilty in February to one count of unlawful dealing by a fiduciary, a second-degree felony, in a plea bargain. Six other similar charges were dismissed.
Defense attorney Peter Stirba said Price was caught up in stressful family problems, coupled with his own medically diagnosed depression. His father-in-law was stricken with fatal cancer and his mother-in-law required constant medical attention, Stirba said.
The press of problems led Price to take the money he needed from client trust accounts, Stirba told the judge.
"These were intense, poignant, family problems," Stirba said. "What Paul was trying to do was address the financial pressures, the family pressures, he was taking on.
"There have been similar, precedent-setting cases in this court but I maintain this case is different," said Stirba, because Price used the money to support his family, not a gambling or substance abuse habit.
After hearing from two victims, Hanson said he was convinced that while they would like to see Price spend up to 15 years in prison, they are more interested in getting their money back - and they can't have both.
Putting someone in prison eliminates the possibility of him working and paying back what he owes, Hanson said.
The judge suspended the prison term, sentencing Price to six months in jail and probation. The jail term is also suspended until a September review to determine if Price is paying his restitution.
Hanson urged Price to make good on his promise. "You would not do well in either jail or prison," Hanson told him.