Oregon Supreme Court disbars Tualatin attorney
Tax and real estate lawyer says he hit tough times, misappropriated funds
The Oregon Supreme Court announced last week that a Tualatin attorney will be disbarred for theft.
In a written decision released Thursday, Oct. 3, the court ruled that W. Scott Phinney of Tualatin had admitted to misappropriating more than $32,000 from the Yale Alumni Association of Oregon. He unsuccessfully appealed the courts decision to disbar him by arguing he intended to return the funds.
Phinney is listed as president and general counsel at Prime Property Tax Negotiation in Tualatin. He was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1982 and was elected treasurer of the Yale Alumni Association of Oregon in 1996. In this volunteer position, he oversaw much of the nonprofits funds and bank transactions, and reported to the organizations presidents and members.
Court records show Phinney had repaid $18,100 when the alleged improprieties were discovered by the associations president, Harvey Black, in 2010.
Phinney said he used Yale Alumni Association funds a total of 21 checks totaling $32,100 he wrote himself between 2008 and 2010 to cover living expenses for himself and his family. He claimed he experienced severe financial and personal setbacks starting in 2007, and detailed job loss and the deaths of both of his parents to the trial panel of the court's Disciplinary Board.
I never intended to deprive the club of their money. All the bills got paid, Phinney said in an interview with The Times.
He described the theft as a series of loans he made to himself, never for more than $8,000 at a time.
I would borrow money, then Id pay it back, he said. Then Id borrow some more, and pay it back.
Phinney did not draw attention to his unauthorized use of association funds, although he claims the transactions were hiding in plain sight: The loans were recorded in the checkbook register and the association's QuickBooks accounting software, he said.
I realize that it was wrong, but I dont think it really constituted theft, the way the statutes are written, he said. I think I deserve some sanction, but I think the bars sanction is excessive.
The process began in August 2010, when the state bar issued a complaint against Phinney, whose activities were categorized by the court as theft by appropriation and in violation of Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct. In concealing his theft, the court said, he engaged in deceit and misrepresented the financial position of the association to its membership for over two years.
Records show the chair of the trial panel initially dissented from the courts decision to disbar Phinney, pushing instead for a 90-day suspension that would allow Phinneys reinstatement after he repaid the remaining amount owed to the alumni association.
The court considered a number of mitigating factors: Phinney had no prior disciplinary record, he freely disclosed his crimes to the court when confronted, he had repaid more than half the amount he took. The court also acknowledged the violations occurred when Phinney was going through significant personal and emotional problems.
Aggravating factors included Phinneys nearly 30 years practicing law, and the fact Phinney had repeatedly engaged in a criminal act for what the court determined to be a selfish motive.
Disbarment was appropriate, the court concluded, given what it termed as Phinney's "serious criminal conduct," which "adversely reflects on the lawyer's fitness to practice."
Phinney represented himself during the proceedings, though he acknowledges ethics and discipline are outside his area of legal expertise.
I decided, maybe wrongly, that I should spend the money paying (the association) back rather than hiring a lawyer, Phinney said.
I may have done better if I had hired somebody, he added, describing the experience as totally alien.
Black confirmed Phinney paid back the remaining $14,530 by May.
Its too bad the fact that he repaid the whole thing with interest didnt make it into the record, Black said. I notified the bar.
He described Phinney as a likeable person, and called the circumstances surrounding the theft a real tragedy in his life.
Phinney will be disbarred effective early December.Add a comment