Not that this is the skeeviest thing a lawyer has ever done, by the way ...
Lawyers unfairly have a bit of a bad reputation. Yes, some lie for a living and defend murderers for money -- but the system simply doesn't work without them. No doubt most are honest folk who do their jobs within the code of ethics all attorneys work under.
But when lawyers do go bad, holy shit do they make the most of it.
It takes a special type of personality to be a divorce lawyer. Day after day, you deal with clients who are vulnerable, emotional wrecks -- acting as an objective steward of the law, gently guiding them through one of the most trying ordeals of their lives. Or, if you're a divorce lawyer like Minnesotan Thomas Lowe, you compliment your client's boobs until she has lots of sex with you ... and then you bill her for it.
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"Ever wanted to blow 500 bucks?"
Not long after Lowe began representing a long-term acquaintance in her divorce, he chatted her up on the finer points of her marital sex life, told her how hot she was, and then leaned against his shelf full of impressive-looking law books, nodded suggestively toward his crotch, and said, "Eh?" And that was all it took for his emotionally unstable client to dive right into a torrid, seven-month affair, during which they christened every last piece of furniture in Lowe's office (possibly the entire building). At this point, Lowe -- who, in case we haven't mentioned it, was quite married -- actually tallied up their encounters and billed her for his time at various intervals.
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Weekend rates for spooning.
While we would like to report that he itemized their lovemaking ("EROTIC SPANKING, WITH BABY TALK - 15 MIN"), he actually disguised the details with terms like "meetings" or "drafting memos" (we can only hope he actually included the sarcastic quotation marks on his invoices). We're not sure which is more disturbing -- the fact that Lowe was twisted enough to take advantage of a clearly unstable woman both sexually and financially, or the fact that she kept sleeping with him even after realizing he was billing her. Maybe she just thought that's what a lawyer does?
So just how did this future Lifetime Original Movie end, you ask? Lowe's wife found out because of course she did, the affair ended, and he withdrew as his mistress' attorney. And when word got out, the Minnesota Supreme Court stepped in and forever forbade this misanthrope from practicing law again -- "forever" in this case meaning "for 15 months," after which Lowe can apply to be reinstated, provided he successfully completes the professional responsibility portion of the bar exam again. Because that worked so well the first time, when he was placed on probation in 1997 for buying cocaine from a client, which he presumably billed right back to them as "entertainment expenses."
Not that this is the skeeviest thing a lawyer has ever done, by the way ...
Being a criminal defense attorney often involves spending a decent amount of time in prisons, seeing as how the people who pay your bills happen to spend most of their free time there. So, what would be the absolute most unethical way to spend those visits?
Hexing the district attorney?
Well, Georgia attorney Michael Winner figured that he had access to all sorts of things prisoners (particularly the female ones) needed: prescription drugs, cigarettes, and his own mental fountain of legal knowledge. The female inmates, on the other hand, had ready access to what their mamas gave them. And Winner, being the opportunistic type, was quite willing to supply contraband and free legal services while demanding peepshows from the other side of the glass partition in the prison's private attorney/client room.
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"I was gonna go to a strip club, but becoming a drug mule seemed like less of a hassle."
He later upped the ante to include whipping out his junk and acquiring sex IOUs to be redeemed when inmates were released (hey, at least he was motivated to do his job). After one of the inmates finally complained about his pro-boner work, Winner was arrested for three counts of "unlawful trading" with inmates (which is, incidentally, the best legal euphemism ever for his shenanigans), and his contact with female inmates was reduced to standing outside the prison exercise yard with a trench coat and a boombox.
On second thought, let's nix the trench coat.
And continuing right along with our theme of lawyers taking advantage of those in desperate situations, it can't get much worse than ...
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Rhode Island estate planner Joseph Caramadre, apparently having had an epiphany that mortuary services and churches were hogging up all that sweet, sweet death money, started advertising in newspapers that he would hand over two grand to any terminally ill individual willing to furnish him with their signature and other pertinent info. Not content to wait for the near-dead to come to him, he also personally solicited the dying, paid visits to AIDS patients, and talked to the friends and families of the nearly deceased -- he got their information, and they got enough money to make all their bucket list dreams come true (assuming their bucket list consisted solely of "have a couple thousand dollars").
"Finally, we can realize our lifelong dream of visiting Bismarck, North Dakota."
To a functioning member of the human race, it almost seems legit: People suffering from some debilitating illness can't exactly go out and work anymore and, hospital and funerary costs being what they are (i.e. absurd), every little bit helps, right? But hey, what did he need those signatures for, anyway?
Petition to bring back Firefly?
Well, see, there are investments (such as certain annuities from insurance companies) that pay out death benefits should the holder die at some point. So, using the information he collected from the dying, Caramadre set about purchasing these in huge quantities, funded with investments made by his clients, friends, and family. Whenever the Grim Reaper came along, Caramadre's cadre got a nice payout (that was NOT shared with the family of the deceased, who didn't even know about it), and he was finally able to realize his dream of profiting from sad, lonely, protracted death with the best of 'em ... to the tune of $46 million over 15 years.
"Sir, could you wait until after the funeral is over to do that?"
Caramadre got six years in prison for trading mortality funds and, in an effort to demonstrate that not all judges are completely bereft of a sense of irony, he was also sentenced to 3,000 hours of community service specifically benefiting the elderly and the terminally ill. We bet he's totally not using that time to set up some sort of retirement home Hunger Games for the amusement of his investor pals.
Wait, did we say that a lawyer exploiting his clients can't get much worse than this? Well, that must have been before we found out about ...
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In 2002, four little girls lost both their parents in a car crash. Attorney John Milton Merritt stepped in and did what any good public servant would do in that situation: He sued the shit out of those responsible for the tragic accident -- namely, a "tire manufacturer" and an "auto maker" -- secured the girls a settlement that would make Charles Dickens proud, and ... then he freaking stole it. Let's say that one more time: He stole a fortune from four little orphan girls.
Never trust a lawyer who has a recipe for gruel.
On three separate occasions, Merritt went to the bank in which the trust fund was deposited, presented a counterfeit court order directing disbursement to him, and walked out carrying large sacks with dollar signs printed on them. Then he promptly spent the blood money on his firm, presumably on avant-garde coffee mugs made out of human skulls. By 2007, two years after his first "withdrawal," the account was empty. Merritt, however, told the orphans and their grandmother that there was still "several hundred thousand dollars" left before laughing maniacally and making his merry way to his secret volcano lair for a comfortable retirement spent alternately wringing his hands and stroking an unamused lap cat.
"Pet all you want; I'm not gonna cosign on that orphan shit, John."
Once you descend that far into stereotypical villainy, though, it's really hard to stop, as evidenced by the fact that four years later Merritt stole $130,000 from the trust account of another client of his -- a boy injured in an automobile accident -- because apparently caviar tastes sweeter when it's purchased with bills soaked in children's tears. Oh, and in the time between burglarizing the orphaned children and the injured one, he stole an additional $3 million by fraudulently setting up lines of credit, falsifying income-tax returns, and forging another attorney's name on other settlement checks. All at the same fucking bank. Would a little oversight kill you, Quail Creek Bank?
His flawless disguise made the fraud impossible to spot.
It's cool, though, because he said he was totally going to give all the kids' money back -- until the federal investigation into his illicit deeds interrupted his plan. Those bastards!
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The lawyers we've examined so far have exhibited limited repertoires -- they're all one trick ponies, if you will. New Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin, on the other hand, apparently studied the entire history of shady lawyers and then asked himself, "Why should I settle for just one crime when I could commit a veritable Tarantino-load of crime?"
Starting his rise to infamy as a defense lawyer, he quickly built a high-profile clientele that included Queen Latifah, Lil' Kim, and the former Miss New Jersey who was jailed for writing bad checks (back when writing checks was a thing). By 2007, Bergrin had graduated to the prestigious moniker of pimp, when, after hiring a drug smuggler and the self-proclaimed "King of all Pimps" as his paralegal, Bergrin decided to make himself the heir to the pimp king's crown. We mean this in the most literal way possible -- he ran a stable of high-end prostitutes on the side. But lest you think poorly of Paul Bergrin, Esquire, we should mention that these weren't your average, everyday streetwalkers -- they charged $1,000 an hour and had titanium business cards, for crying out loud.
Pimp kings haven't held much real power since the '70s, but "Chancellor of all Pimps" just doesn't have that zing.
In 2009, Bergrin was caught and pled guilty to the whole lady-of-the-evening thing, but got by with three years of probation and forfeiting some of his strumpet proceeds. That, however, turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. See, Bergrin had learned a thing or two about the law on the mean legal streets of the Dirty Jerz, and he was fond of summarizing it thusly: "No witness, no case." A statement which, while absolutely true in most cases, becomes less legal tautology and more action-hero one-liner when you actually hire a hitman to eliminate a witness, advise said hitman on how best to accomplish said elimination, and then make said hitman shit his pants by telling him that you want to participate in the hit.
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"So you wanna get a beer afterward, or should we just drink his blood?"
After noticing a peculiar trend -- namely, witnesses in Bergrin's cases often either altering their stories or just straight-up dying -- authorities finally decided to step in. Bergrin was convicted on 23 counts, ranging from murderous conspiracy and racketeering to drug and prostitution offenses. Finding himself on the other side of the law finally brought down "The Baddest Lawyer in the History of Jersey," and he now spends his time in prison waiting for Hollywood producers to line up outside his cell.
Related Reading: We're only too happy to point out the utterly screwed nature of our justice system. But that doesn't mean Hollywood can't make it seem even more ridiculous. Juries can't conduct their own investigations, 12 Angry Men. Still hankering for legal humor? Read about these "brilliant" movie lawyers who sucked at their jobs.