The Lawyer, The Bar And The Nigerian Prince: A Bar Can Teach A Lawyer Ethics Lessons With Sanctions, But How Does It Fix Stupid?

"YOU again!"

“YOU again!”

It can’t.

You can read, here, the jaw-dropping Iowa Supreme Court opinion affirming a one-year suspension of Iowa lawyer Robert Allan Wright Jr.for talking his clients into loaning money to…that ubiquitous Nigerian Prince. Wright  solicited more than $200,000 in loans from five current and former clients, promising them they would receive as much as quadruple their investment when proceeds of the inheritance described in that helpful e-mail was obtained.  He was only going to take a 10% contingency, which is actually very reasonable…or would be, if this hadn’t been a scam.

After his clients lost all their money, Wright was cited for violations of several Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct, including…

  • Rule 1.1, Competence (Ya think?)
  • Rule 1.7 Conflict of Interest
  • Rule 1.8(a)  Transactions With Clients
  • Rule 1.8(b) , prohibiting using  information relating to representation of a client to the  disadvantage of  the client, and
  • Rule 8.4, Misconduct

Neither the court nor the bar concluded that Wright set out to do anything wrong or illegal, and he genuinely wanted to make money for his clients. The court even hints that Wright may not have perceived the scam because he is a good-hearted soul who does a lot of pro bono work.  That seems reasonable. (In fact, it seems he still isn’t sure that “one day a trunk full of … one hundred dollar bills” isn’t  “going to appear upon his office doorstep.”)

What is troubling is that just one year from now, Iowans will be able to engage to advise  and assist them regarding life and death matters a good-hearted, utterly naive and clueless lawyer who fell so hard for the Nigerian prince scam that he dragged his clients into it. He didn’t investigate, even to the extent of googling “Nigerian Prince.” How trustworthy is such a bumbling naif, no matter how big his heart, when his brain gives every indication of being atrophied?

Shouldn’t there be some threshold level of common sense that a lawyer must show himself to be capable of to continue to practice? Shouldn’t blowing hundreds of thousands in client funds on a transparent scam people have been making jokes about for decades be treated as conclusive evidence that the individual in question is too gullible to practice law, and should turn his attention to, say, street performing or selling neckties?


Pointer and Source: ABA Journal

12 thoughts on “The Lawyer, The Bar And The Nigerian Prince: A Bar Can Teach A Lawyer Ethics Lessons With Sanctions, But How Does It Fix Stupid?

  1. Are sure this isn’t from the Onion? I mean, really!!! I am still waiting for my winnings from that very same country’s lottery! I sent my ‘service fee’, along with my social security number, bank account and routing numbers, and date of birth. It should be here any day now, or so that’s what they’re telling me. I can’t wait because I could really use the cash, what with Christmas and all!!


  2. “Neither the court nor the bar concluded that Wright set out to do anything wrong or illegal”

    I disagree with both if it was the standard 409 scam. In the typical version, the mark is being asked to join a money laundering conspiracy.

  3. Incompetent Lawyer Dept.

    At Everett’s sentencing hearing yesterday—at which he was served a sentence of 29 years to life—defense attorney John Scarpa caught the ire of the judge when he argued against the victim’s character. “Shouldn’t that [sentence] be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?” he reportedly asked, adding, “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”
    This wasn’t the defense’s first misstep in the trial; in October, during a cross-examination of one of Everett’s ex-girlfriends in October, Scarpa accidentally allowed the witness to reveal more of the defendant’s history of abuse. “Our breakup was because he choked me,” she said when Scarpa asked her why their relationship ended. “I dislike him for what he did to me.” A juror later told the Post that the admission “didn’t close the case for me at that point, I wanted to be fair, but it did for some of the other jurors.”

    The victim here was strangled too you see.

  4. “Neither the court nor the bar concluded that Wright set out to do anything wrong or illegal, and he genuinely wanted to make money for his clients.”

    No, but surely he didn’t do his due diligence in researching the Nigerian end of all of this? Did he not have that duty? I say that after giving a HUGE benefit of the doubt that he truly had never heard of this scam before… which I find hard to believe. But I guess that Iowan Supreme Court figured out ole boy wasn’t out to scam his own clients, so he was behaving honestly.

    Next: a one year suspension, mitigated to that because they couldn’t determined wrong doing? If he did have the duty to actually do some research on this, and failed miserably at that, how does that not warrant a greater suspension or even revocation?

  5. Then, there are some scams directed exclusively to lawyers:
    The Korean (or Japanese) woman who contacts the lawyer by e-mail because her husband is divorcing her in “your jurisdiction” and “blah blah blah, you are an awesome lawyer” (which is how I knew it was a scam), “handle the divorce and you will get a big cut of his massive retirement account” (or something like that-even though contingency fees in divorce cases are verboten). I have tried to toy with this person, but can get no name, file number etc.

    Then, there was one that actually hit one firm in my city (I think they do a lot of debt collection, if I recall, so good for them), they responded to some e-mail, received a check (maybe certified funds, even), deposited it in their trust account and then returned the funds to the client, only to have the original check come up bad later (and I don’t think it was days later; I think it was weeks). However, part of the scam is the client wants the money returned NOW(!). The check initially clears (I presume the law firm waited 7-10 days to make sure the funds were there, but that does not always happen), then the money gets yanked back out.

  6. Lawyers this stupid should simply be disbarred. Period. Over the past couple of years this Nigerian/Lithuanian/Russian/Congolese (whatever) “prince” has e-mailed me many times. How can anyone think this is something other than a giant scam? The (kind/pro bono/but utterly clueless) lawyer who fell for it should be estopped from the practice of law. Period. And the law school he attended, and the bar that admitted him, should be investigated as well. We’re all used to lawyers being crooks (not all, of course, but many), but we’re NOT used to lawyers being TOTAL morons.

    By the way, I usually just delete these e-mails, but this last time I did write back: “What kind of idiot do you think I am? Just hope that some day, some how, you end up in jail.” Curiously, this particular prince did not write me back.

  7. Pingback: Unwitting lawyer is suspended for arranging client loans to secure Nigerian inheritance | lennyesq

  8. I agree that this “lawyer” should be disbarred. My husband, who is a practicing lawyer in good standing in Iowa, as well as all the other lawyers in Iowa, have now been assessed an additional $300+ to replace the lost funds to the Client Security Funds. So this idiot has ended up punishing all the lawyers in the state for his incompetence. It’s lawyers like this that cause the general public to be distrustful of lawyers.

    By the way, my husband gets these types of e-mails including the ones about the foreign national looking for a divorce lawyer, etc. He also deletes those e-mails.

  9. There is a lot in common with the Nigerian 419 scams and what hapeenpd with Warren K. Both rely heavily on the greed of the victim to outweigh their common sense in order to perpetrate the fraud.With 419 scams it is easy money that is the driving force, with Warren it was his own ego and desperation to find anything that supports his misguided opinion on free speech that caused him to ignore the obvious and fall victim to the greatest prank in Canadian blogging history.

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