Every lawyer has a fiduciary duty to maintain a client’s property safely and appropriately. A fiduciary duty is the highest duty imposed by our legal system. A fiduciary must exercise a high degree of good faith in protecting a client’s property. So, when the "DWI Dude" is charged with not returning $50,000 he maintained on behalf of his client, I just shake my head. See San Antonio Express News report (account required). The "DWI Dude" is Jamie Balaglia, a lawyer in Austin and San Antonio who advertises for DWI cases. He is also the Libertarian Party candidate for state Attorney General.
He represented a client suspected of transporting drugs. The authorities indicated at first they would seek civil forfeiture of the funds. When they did not, the moneys as turned over to Mr. Balaglia. He apparently still has the money. The State Bar of Texas has filed suit to seek a finding that he has violated ethical rules.
I always a little surprised when my clients do not already know I owe them a very high duty, a fiduciary duty, toward the money they deposit with me. I doubt any lawyer would forget this fundamental principle of the lawyer business. I have no idea what is going on with Mr. Balaglia’s practice. But, I caution folks from becoming too judgmental toward a lawyer. We do not know the whole story, yet. Often when a lawyer violates a clear rule like the fiduciary rule, the lawyer is going through some illness or substance abuse, which is often its own illness….