NORTHVILLE - Fulton County Fourth Assistant Public Defender Roger L. Paul admitted May 31 to professional misconduct charges, and the state suspended his private practice for two years.
But the state allowed the Northville attorney's suspension to be "stayed," letting him continue to practice and giving him a chance to get his financial affairs in order. Paul maintains a private practice on County Highway 113.
Paul admitted to converting funds from his attorney escrow account for personal use in 2010 and issuing a check with insufficient funds on the account in May of the same year.
County Attorney Arthur C. Spring said Friday he wrote the state on Paul's behalf. He said Paul showed a "lack of judgment" but should remain in his county assistant public defender position.
"I certainly would recommend keeping him on," Spring said.
Spring said the Board of Supervisors could look at removing him as an assistant public defender, but as long as he's allowed by the state to practice, there's probably no reason to terminate him.
A Memorandum and Order from the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department, reads: "Respondent has explained that he used the escrow funds to keep his practice open during an especially difficult downturn in his business, but acknowledges that this was no excuse for his professional misconduct."
The court ruled that Paul "should be suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years," effective immediately, but that action will be stayed if Paul provides the Committee on Professional Standards with semiannual reports by a certified public accountant showing he is properly handling his escrow account and client funds.
Paul said Friday he was "fully cooperative" with the committee, and the decision by the appellate division is "clear." He said he plans on continuing in his practice and staying on as an assistant public defender.
"I enjoy helping people and I think I've done a good job," Paul said.
Spring said some people don't realize that attorneys also can have rough times financially. He said there are "more attorneys than ever," banks aren't lending as in the past, and people are cutting back on their legal representation.
"The economy is hitting everybody, not just the lower-income people," Spring said. "Roger has been feeling the financial pinch."
He said he wrote a letter in Paul's defense to the state.
The decision said although Paul exhibited "serious misconduct," his acts are "mitigated by his restitution of the converted funds, the lack of apparent client harm, his expressions of remorse, his full cooperation with petitioner's investigation, his good personal and professional reputation, and his commendable service to his community and the public over the course of his career, including pro bono client representation."
Public Defender Gerard McAuliffe Jr. on Friday issued a statement supporting his legal colleague.
"This does not impact his ability to act as an assistant public defender in Fulton County," McAuliffe wrote. "Roger has been an asset to the public defender's office since his hire. At this time, I do not anticipate any action being taken against him by Fulton County."
Johnstown 4th Ward Supervisor William Waldron, chairman of the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee, said Friday he didn't know about Paul's suspension and had no comment at this time.
"I think I'd have to do a little research on this," Waldron said.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.