PROVO An attorney was suspended and could be potentially disbarred for keeping money from two retainer checks, rather than share half of the money with his former firm.
Attorney Craig Bainum was placed on five years of court-supervised probation and told not to practice law or do anything having the appearance of practicing law, according to a ruling from 4th District Judge Samuel McVey.
Bainum was also sanctioned for violating professional rules relating to diligence, communication, fees and professional independence of a lawyer by failing to come to court hearings, not communicating with clients or paying restitution to his law firm years after the fact, McVey wrote.
Bainum's defense attorney Gary Weight could not be reached for comment.
Three years from now, Bainum may apply to practice law again if he provides evidence to the court that he would be working under an experienced attorney, has malpractice insurance coverage for his clients and is complying with the Office of Professional Conduct, according to McVey's ruling.
Bainum also must submit a detailed plan from a psychologist or psychiatrist for managing his chronic depression, which he was dealing with during his rule-violating conduct, McVey wrote.
McVey wrote that while depression cannot excuse Bainum's conduct, the court cannot ignore that fact.
The ruling came after a recent sanctions hearing in 4th District Court, in which Bainum testified about how his relationship at the law firm of Dexter and Dexter ended in August 2002, after slowly deteriorating for 11 months.
"I think every attorney has some issues," said Chris Dexter, partner of Dexter and Dexter. "Craig's issues dealt with communication."
However, Dexter praised Bainum's "court presence," and said he valued his friendship.
Bainum testified he became frustrated when poor equipment in his satellite office in Salt Lake City prevented him from doing his work, which he saw as a violation of his contract.
The money problem arose when Bainum deposited two retainer checks from clients he had worked with toward the end of his employment into his own account not a 50/50 split with the law firm as was the stated but unwritten policy.
"The check was made out to Dexter and Dexter," asked Billy Walker, with the Utah Bar Office of Professional Conduct. "You endorsed the back?"
"Yes," Bainum said.
"Did you notify any of the partners that you had received the check?" Walker asked.
Bainum said he had not and confirmed that he had deposited the check into his account.
"They had breached our agreement so much I didn't think they were entitled to have anything," he said.
Weight later asked Bainum if he had repaid the $4,000 in question.
Bainum said he had and acknowledged he hadn't handled the money in the right way to begin with."There was no question they breached our agreement," Bainum said. "But I just didn't handle it right. I should have talked to them, should have renegotiated."