Palmer, Alaska attorney Melinda Miles was disbarred by the Alaska Supreme Court Friday. The court found she had stolen money from a client. She claimed it was a gift. Neither the Bar Discipline Committee, the Alaska Bar’s Board of Governors or the Alaska Supreme Court believed her story.
The facts aren’t complex. One of her clients gave her signature authority on one of his checking accounts. She claimed to believe the account had survivorship provisions, making it hers when her client unexpectedly died. It didn’t. She acted like it did, and took the money. There really wasn’t any credible reason to think the money was hers. Worse, there are special rules a lawyer has to follow when her client wants to make a substantial gift. The rules are intended to protect against overreaching by lawyers, who often enjoy a special relationship of trust and confidence with their clients. Ms. Miles failed to comply with those special rules.
Miles has been a lawyer since 1989; she’s not a newbie. She doesn’t appear to have been a bad attorney, although there may have been one prior discipline proceeding against her. She was a dog musher, competing in the 2004 Iditarod. She scratched in Koyuk. Yen years later, she scratched in Palmer, stealing $20,000.00.
Some say everyone has their price. WC can’t speak to that. But WC likes to think his is a lot higher than $20,000.
Over the next thirty days, Ms. Miles has to wrap up her law practice, her clients all have to find a new lawyer, at considerable expense, no doubt. Getting a new lawyer up to speed can be spendy. She’s already paid back the $20,000, but her client’s sole heir, his mother, had already died.
WC is sorry for Ms. Miles’ family and her clients, but can’t find much sympathy for Ms. Miles. She’s made all lawyers look a littl worse, hurt a bunch of people and, in the very best case, displayed shockingly bad judgment.
Bad Alaska lawyers aren’t confined to the Valley. But the numbers are disproportionate. Such a shame.