By Rosemary K. Otzman
A highly regarded attorney, who practiced law at 35 Main Street across the street from Belleville City Hall for 20 years, has been disbarred from the practice of law as of July 15.
Only active members of the Michigan Bar Association are eligible to practice law in Michigan.
Thomas A. White, a resident of Van Buren Township, signed an agreement to repay some of his clients their lost funds, totaling almost a half million dollars.
But, some of his clients are not satisfied with the agreement to pay them less than he took from them and are suing him in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Yet other clients have filed criminal complaints that are being investigated by the Michigan State Police.
Belleville Police Chief Gene Taylor said his department turned all their White cases over to the MSP so there wouldn’t be double police time spent on the same complaints.
The Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC) is the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Michigan Supreme Court for allegations of attorney misconduct. This commission has jurisdiction over all attorneys licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Michigan.
The Attorney Discipline Board is the adjudicative (delivering judgment) arm of the Michigan Supreme Court for matters in which the AGC has initiated formal proceedings.
In the Attorney Discipline Board’s AGC’s Stipulation for Consent Order of Discipline signed by White on May 22, White pled no contest to the allegations of professional misconduct.
White also agreed to the order of disbarment entered against him,
He agreed to pay partial restitution prior to the filing of a consolidated complaint, free disclosure to the disciplinary board, imposition of other penalties by the probate court, and remorse.
The Order of Discipline listed aggravating factors as: prior disciplinary offenses, dishonest or selfish motive, multiple offenses, and substantial experience in the practice of law.
He agreed not to take on any new clients after the date he signed this stipulation, which was May 22.
And, he agreed to pay the following restitutions:
• To Betty Pendleton – $15,500, by Aug.
• To Vivian Jackson – $11,166.32, by Aug. 15, 2013;
• To the Estate of Thomas Garrett – $216,000 by Nov. 1, 2013;
• To the Gallaway Complainants (Edward Gallaway, Dennis Gallaway, Margaret Sawicki, Marilyn Lange, David Gallaway, and Ronald Gallaway), $90,038.35 by July 15, 2014.
White agreed that he would not be eligible to file a petition for reinstatement until all restitution is paid in full. Also, in the event that the Client Protection Fund pays claims made against White, White shall not be eligible to petition for reinstatement until the Fund is fully reimbursed.
These pending AGC investigative files were administratively closed:
• AGC File No. 2099-12-Walter Larson;
• AGC File No. 0558-12-Pushpa Srivastava.
The order of discipline was a final order and White waived his rights to appeal.
Two civil cases against White are on file in the Wayne County Circuit Court.
On Oct. 12, 2012 a professional malpractice case was filed by Georgina and Jeffrey Hamilton vs. The Law Office of Thomas White. On Jan. 11, 2013, a consent judgment was filed for $50,000. On March 15, 2013 a Writ of Garnishment was filed and on July 3 an Order to seize property was signed and filed.
On Dec. 3, 2012, a civil case was filed against White by David, Dennis, Ed and Ronald Gallaway, Marilyn Lange, and Margaret Sawicki and a third party, Charter One Bank. A status conference was held on April 9 in Judge Lita M. Popke’s chambers and the case is listed as “held for further settlement.”
A settlement conference has been set for Oct. 22.
Steven Z. Cohen, the attorney for plaintiffs in this case, told the Independent his clients are beneficiaries in the Thomas Garret estate and should have received $600,000.
Cohen said White never returned phone calls and avoided his clients for months. One of the plaintiffs, who lives in Florida, got tired of not getting calls returned from White, Cohen said. He came to Belleville to meet with the attorney and said he called him from the restaurant across the street from White’s office.
Cohen said White answered the phone and whispered that he couldn’t talk now because he was in court. Cohen said his client knew he was lying since he could see him talking on the phone. He went into the office and, “There White was,” Cohen said.
He said White got angry and resigned as the family’s attorney.
Cohen said he tried to file an insurance claim for his clients for malpractice. He said they should have gotten $350,000 but White did not pay his malpractice insurance premiums. Cohen said his clients might be able to get a little money from a legal victim’s fund.
Cohen said White spent between $500,000 and $600,000 in a year.
Cohen said a preliminary injunction was filed on Dec. 13, 2012 and all White’s accounts are frozen. White has a Jani-King franchise in his name, but clients pay for services directly to Jani-King not to White, Cohen said.
Cohen said White is a liar and he will see to it that he goes to jail, adding, “This is fraud.” He said attorneys should make sure people are protected.
Cohen said he is challenging the Bar Association’s restitution order against White which requires White to pay his clients only $90,938.35 by July 15, 2014. He said although White agreed to this amount, his clients didn’t.
Property taxes on the home on Savage Road where White is registered to vote have not been paid in some time.
White was first licensed to practice law in Michigan in 1993. He graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2006 with a master’s degree in Business Administration and University of Toledo College of Law in 1992 with a Juris Doctor degree.
He has served as the corporate counsel for the Belleville-Area Independent for almost 20 years.
Independent Court Reporter Diane Madigan contributed to this report.