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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Appeals court affirms decision to disbar Houston lawyer for practicing law while suspended

Attorneys & Judges

By Charmaine Little | Jul 31, 2019

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Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Leanne Johnson | electjusticeleannejohnson.com

BEAUMONT – The Court of Appeals in the Ninth District of Texas recently affirmed a jury verdict to disbar a Houston lawyer who was accused of drafting legal documents while suspended.

In its July 25 opinion, the appeals court affirmed the decision by the jury in the 284th District Court in Montgomery County to disbar Kristin D. Wilkinson after finding she “violated a disciplinary judgment when she drafted and executed a trust document and powers of attorney” while she was suspended. Justice Charles Kreger ruled on the case with Justices Steve McKeithen and Leanne Johnson concurring.

Wilkinson had appealed the jury's decision and said the lower court should not have denied her plea to the jurisdiction. She also alleged there wasn’t enough evidence to back the jury’s decision and that the trial court made a mistake when it gave the Commission for Lawyer Discipline partial summary judgment.

Regarding the plea to jurisdiction issue, Wilkinson challenged that the commission and the lawyer who filed the issue did not have standing to sue Wilkinson for the beneficiary of the trust. The appeals court pointed out that the commission sued “at the direction of the Supreme Court,” as Wilkinson was licensed in Texas and was under the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and commission. At the same time, Wilkinson also had to follow the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure and the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct because she was a lawyer. The appeals court also said the commission filed the lawsuit as an administrative agency of the Supreme Court and not on behalf of the beneficiary as Wilkinson claimed.

Regarding the evidence issue, the appeals court said exhibits of checks that Wilkinson wrote herself, among other things, were sufficient to prove Wilkinson committed fraud and acted in dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation. “Wilkinson took funds for herself that she held as a fiduciary without invoicing or otherwise justifying the expenditure,” the appeals court said.

In addressing the issue involving summary judgment, the appeals court said, “Wilkinson presents no substantive argument and authorities to support her argument that the trial court abused its discretion. We conclude the trial court acted within discretion when it denied leave to supplement the motion for summary judgment and summary judgment evidence.”

The issues in the case date back to 2011 when Wilkinson was suspended, court filings said. Three years after her suspension she drafted and executed an irrevocable living trust agreement and general power of attorney, with the beneficiary moving assets to a trust and Wilkinson was the trustee. Wilkinson was removed in 2015, yet $650,000 of liquid assets were reduced to $200,000 when Wilkinson was the trustee. The commission then initiated a petition for the lower court to order a disciplinary action against Wilkinson.

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