Thursday, September 17, 2009

Judges Who Do Get Caught, Get Jail 'On Weekends'


FORT WORTH — A former Dallas municipal judge will serve 60 days in the Tarrant County Jail as a condition of her probation for spending money awarded to a client in a 2003 probate case that she handled while practicing law in Arlington.

A jury had already been seated in Criminal District Court No. 3 when Tiffany Lewis pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to misapplication of fiduciary property. Lewis used a $58,000 probate settlement awarded to a Dallas woman and her daughter to buy a motorcycle for her baby’s father, cover office expenses, and cover bad checks in other clients’ accounts, Tarrant County prosecutor Lori Varnell said.

Lewis, 41, was sentenced to 10 years’ probation by visiting Judge David Cleveland, who ordered her to serve 60 days in jail and repay the money.

Lewis, who was disbarred in 2005, was also forbidden to hold herself out as an attorney or to act as a fiduciary, someone who handles money for other people.

The Texas Bar Association had stripped Lewis of her license to practice law in April 2005 because of the probate case. But Tarrant County prosecutors learned that she was continuing to represent clients in Tarrant County, Varnell said.

Lewis was also serving as a Dallas municipal judge. Municipal judges are not required to be attorneys.

But Dallas authorities began trying to remove her because she lived in Arlington, not in Dallas, as required, and had lied about her residence, Varnell said. She resigned her judicial position in 2007 in lieu of disciplinary action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Her disbarment was based on a Dallas woman’s 2004 complaint to the bar that the attorney had taken $58,000 of her Dallas County probate settlement.
Lewis took most of the money in cash, which could not be traced, Varnell said. It took nearly five years for a forensic accountant to track the money from the probate account to Lewis’ Bedford bank to her expenditures, which depleted the account in 134 days, Varnell said.

Varnell said she and co-counsel Sabrina Sabin were prepared to try the case but accepted the plea to get restitution for the victims. "They’re very poor people who don’t have a lot of means," Varnell said. "She stole from the weakest members of our society."

Defense attorney Anthony Randall acknowledged that Lewis did not pay her clients "in a timely fashion" but said she intended to do so.

Randall said Lewis, who is a single mother, took the last-minute plea to ensure that she would remain free to raise her daughter. She will serve her 60-day jail term on weekends and, as required by probation rules, seek a job, he said.

"She does have restitution to pay back, and she will be doing that," Randall said.

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