DALLAS (CN) - The State Bar of Texas sanctioned a personal injury lawyer and TV host who is facing state felony charges and withheld a client's settlement money.
An evidentiary panel with District 6 of the Bar determined that Thomas Corea, of Palmer, engaged in fraud, dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation regarding settlement money belonging to his client Howard Wright in connection with a wrongful-death claim.
"Respondent failed to promptly deliver to Howard Wright settlement funds that Howard Wright was entitled to receive," the five-page judgment states. "Respondent failed to hold settlement funds belonging to Howard Wright separate from respondent's own property until there was an accounting and severance of their interest."
Finding that Corea committed professional malpractice, the panel ordered his disbarment last week.
It also ordered Corea to immediately notify each of his current clients of the disbarment and to return any files and unearned money.
Corea was arrested Aug. 30 after a Dallas County grand jury indicted him on four-first degree felonies: theft of more than $200,000; misapplication of more than $200,000 by a fiduciary; securing the execution of a document by deception worth more than $200,000; and fraudulent use and possession of identifying information.
"Corea is accused of stealing settlement funds from his clients' trust accounts, using false information to secure financial loans, and stealing identities to apply for various loans and credit cards," the Dallas County District Attorney's Office said in a statement at the time.
The indictments came after a seven-month investigation.
Wright, of Ellis County, had sued Corea a week earlier, on Aug. 23. The complaint in Dallas County Court claimed that Wright hired Corea to handle his nursing-home neglect claim after his father died.
After the nursing home settled for $225,000 in mediation, Corea allegedly used at least two "fraudulent" excuses to delay paying Wright the settlement. Wright said that Corea misled him into thinking that Corea had spent several months renegotiating a Medicare lien.
To try and get the money, Wright allegedly filed a grievance with the State Bar and hired additional counsel, but the money was never placed in Corea's trust account.
"Moreover, defendant Corea misappropriated fiduciary information to obtain a loan against the settlement, possibly in plaintiff's name, with the funds from the loan to be paid to defendant Corea," according to Wright's complaint.
"On information and belief, defendant Corea spent the entire $225,000 from the settlement on himself and/or fraudulent transferred all or part of the funds at issue to his wife, Jennifer Roberts Corea."
Earlier this month, two other clients filed legal malpractice suits against Corea.
Diana Moss sued Corea and Corea Trial Group LLC in Tarrant County Court. She claims the defendants failed to file an automobile collision lawsuit on her behalf before the statute of limitations expired.
"During most of the representation, plaintiff Diana Moss attempted to frequently contact her attorneys, but they rarely returned her phone calls or contacted her," the 36-page complaint states. "Finally, around January 25, 2012, plaintiff Diana Moss fired defendants and collected her case file from them."
Moss claims the defendants knew her claim would be lost on Nov. 11, 2011, yet they filed no lawsuit on her behalf in spite of having drafted the complaint.
One day after Moss sued, Harlan Cannon Sr. sued Corea and his law firm, The Corea Firm PLLC, in Dallas County Court. Cannon claims he hired Corea to pursue a Vioxx product-liability claim and Corea has refused to turn over the proceeds of a settlement.
"Mr. Cannon has repeatedly requested disbursement of his funds to no avail," the five-page complaint states. "Due to the failure of the defendants to respond, a grievance has been filed with the State Bar."
Cannon claims the Bar concluded in August that his grievance alleges professional misconduct, and that the grievance is pending.
Cannon said he has cooperated with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' investigation into Corea's alleged failure to pay Vioxx settlement money to several clients.
Corea is the former host of "Ask the Lawyer with Tom Corea," a half-hour, biweekly call-in show on KTXA Channel 21, a CBS-owned station.Follow @davejourno
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