St. Louis Record

Friday, September 20, 2019

Three St. Louis attorneys on probation following cleaning staff's alleged theft

By Karen Kidd | Nov 3, 2017

Three St. Louis attorneys, all of whom have individually practiced law at least 32 years, are on probation following Oct. 31 Missouri Supreme Court orders after funds were found stolen from their client trust account.

Lamar E. Ottsen Jr, Robert B. Leggat Jr and Timothy Belz, all principals at Ottsen, Leggat & Belz, each drew a year's probation, according to the supreme court orders. A Missouri State Bar audit of the trio's trust account concluded that a member of the law firm's landlord's cleaning staff misappropriated approximately $22,500 from the trust account, according to a summary of the case.  

The theft reportedly occurred via a series of unauthorized electronic withdrawals from the trust account between August 2014 and March 2015.

Ottsen was admitted to the bar in Missouri on Sept. 5, 1964, Leggat on April 29, 1972 and Belz on Nov. 10, 1984, according to their profiles at the state bar's website.

All three are signatories on their firm's client trust account, about which their bank notified the state bar's chief disciplinary counsel's office that the trust account was overdrawn, according to the summary. The state bar's subsequent investigation and audit alleged that the cleaning staff misappropriated the funds but no one in the firm had reconciled the trust account's bank statements since October 2011, the summary said.

The lack of reconciliation allowed the unauthorized withdrawals to go unnoticed.

When the firm notified the bank the withdrawals were unauthorized, the bank purportedly reversed the unlawful charges and restored the funds.

The state bar's chief disciplinary counsel's office began disciplinary proceedings against Leggat, Ottsen and Belz alleging violation of state bar rules for depositing earned fees into the trust account, failing to withdraw earned fees from the trust account in a timely manner and failing to deliver promptly to clients funds they were entitled to receive.

Those allegations resulted in personal and client funds being commingled, according to the summary.

After a hearing "on largely stipulated facts," a state bar panel recommended the three be reprimanded but the chief disciplinary counsel's office instead asked the high court for stayed suspensions with probation. The court orders placed the three attorneys on probation with no suspensions.

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Missouri Supreme Court