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April 4, 2012 7:08 PM

Former Cozen Associate Disciplined for Sham Billing Practices

Posted by Sara Randazzo

A Pennsylvania disciplinary board has hit a former Cozen O'Connor associate with a 30-month suspension for billing hundreds of thousands of dollars in sham charges to firm clients and at one point practicing law without holding an active license.

The associate, Matthew Francis Henry, worked in the litigation department of Cozen's Philadelphia headquarters from September 2001 until April 2009. In an order (PDF) from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dated Tuesday, a three-member panel of the court's disciplinary board detailed five examples of client matters for which Henry continued to submit bills, despite doing little to no work.

In one instance, Henry kept billing for work he was purportedly doing in connection with a lawsuit against Cozen client Lititz Mutual Insurance Company for a year and a half after the litigation ended. The bills included 9.3 hours spent "preparing for a hearing on the nonexistent renewed motion" and 16.5 hours to travel to a nonexistent hearing on that motion. All told, Henry submitted more than $77,000 in falsified bills for the Lititz matter to the firm, with the client paying almost $19,000 of that amount.

In a statement, Cozen said the firm conducted an internal audit of Henry's files, and that "We discussed the matter with all clients affected by the situation and those clients were credited for any improper charges."

In another case, Henry failed to respond to amended complaints filed against Cozen client MasterBrand Cabinets, and submitted nearly $150,000 in fake bills on the matter. A third example cited in the disciplinary order found Henry billing 183 hours on a matter over the course of two years following Cozen's withdrawal from the case in 2006.

The panel found that Henry violated seven rules of professional conduct as well as engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

Four months after neglecting to renew his law license in 2009—a period during which he continued to work at Cozen and be listed as an active attorney on the firm's Web site—Henry turned himself in to the disciplinary board and notified them of the false billing. He agreed to the 30-month suspension, which, because it was applied retroactively to November 5, 2009, is almost complete.

Whether Henry will return to the practice of law is unknown. His lawyer, James Schwartzman, chair of the ethics and professional responsibility group at Stevens & Lee, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

A letter from a psychologist who treated Henry, which was included in the disciplinary order, suggests that law was not his passion.

The letter, written in September 2011, describes a troubled individual who struggled with alcohol and marijuana abuse. "He had never been very clear about his own commitment to the practice of law," the doctor writes, describing Henry's account of trying to avoid going into the office whenever possible, particularly when it became clear he had been passed up for partnership.

"He says that he did almost nothing productive with his time . . . flipping through TV channels and doing crossword puzzles, just waiting until he felt it was late enough in the day to begin drinking," according to the doctor, Norman Pitt. Despite being unmotivated, Henry knew he had to bill enough hours to meet Cozen's annual requirement, Pitt writes, which is part of the reason Henry says he began falsifying documents.

Pitt also notes that Henry was "vastly relieved" once the misconduct came to light, and "seemed to hope or wish for little leniency, feeling that he deserved whatever punishment might come."

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How does an associate get away with this kind of fraudulent time entry? Where was the billing partner or matter managing partner? Did they not see these phony charges on a prebill or were they asleep at the switch?

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