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Discipline cases arise in SW and Northern Virginia

Details are slowly coming to light about the charges against the latest of a crop of Virginia lawyers accused of major misdeeds. One Southwest Virginia lawyer allegedly passed off phony legal documents to cover for work he did not do, while a former Northern Virginia attorney is accused of settling cases without the clients’ knowledge and pocketing the proceeds.

The case against Gerard R. Marks, a Christiansburg lawyer whose license has been suspended, is remarkable more for the nature of the alleged misdeeds – creating false documents to fool his clients into thinking their legal issues had been favorably resolved – than the size of the claimed losses.

It’s the aggregate amount of the alleged thefts by former Woodbridge attorney Stephen T. Conrad – $3.4 million in personal injury settlements – that has had bar leaders rethinking the rejection of a client-protection proposal. It didn’t help that the disclosure of the apparent thefts came on the heels of three other cases of alleged impropriety involving millions of dollars.

At least one Marks client thought that he was divorced because he received what appeared to be a final divorce decree, signed by a judge and bearing a court seal. Apparently, however, no such decree had ever been entered. The former client now has to contend with the fallout from actions he took based on the assumption that he was no longer married.

Two of the charges against Marks involve adoption papers in uncontested cases. Other claims had to do with real estate matters.
The alleged forgeries may have come to light when a Montgomery County property dispute went to court. Local developer Roger Woody was using part of a shopping center parking lot to drive dump trucks to a lot that he owned. He claimed that he had a valid easement, based on paperwork provided by Marks, his attorney.

The shopping center owners filed suit asking for a judgment that no such easement existed. In one news account, one of the landowners called the paperwork “the Houdini right of way that just appeared.”

In September 2007, several months after that dispute arose, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Josiah T. Showalter Jr. entered a cryptic order, barring Marks from practice in the 27th Circuit until further notice. In December, the Virginia State Bar suspended Marks’ license “for failure to comply with a subpoena duces tecum.” In April, Marks was indicted on 21 felony counts related to 11 alleged forgeries.

An arraignment is now scheduled for June 18, but the clerk’s office advises that a substitute judge has not yet been appointed. “It’s kind of in a holding pattern right now,” said special prosecutor Joel Branscom. Branscom had no estimate of the amount of money involved in Marks’ alleged misdeeds, nor did he speculate on the reason for the alleged falsifications.

Branscom said that Marks was released on a recognizance bond. “He turned himself in and has been cooperative,” said Branscom.
By contrast to the handful of forgeries attributed to Marks, Conrad is accused of fraud on a massive scale. An FBI investigator wrote, “I have determined that Conrad defrauded between 200 and 300 of his clients out of their share of settlement proceeds and improperly kept for himself at least $3.4 million in settlement proceeds.”

Conrad was charged last year by Prince William County authorities, but the state charges recently were dropped in favor of a federal wire fraud count. A receiver was appointed to take control of his law office. He is represented by the federal public defender’s office. He consented to revocation of his law license.

Before the Conrad accusations came to light, the Virginia State Bar Council soundly rejected a proposal that would have required insurance carriers to notify claimants when they sent settlement checks to claimants’ lawyers. Later, some of the strongest critics of the proposal conceded that such a law would have exposed Conrad’s alleged misdeeds much sooner and would have prevented much of the damage.

Now, bar leaders are considering a task force to look into new measures for client protection, including insurance notification to claimants. The Committee on Lawyer Discipline is to look into a proposal for random audits of attorney trust accounts.

Other attorneys exposed in recent years are:

• Clarence G. Lowry of the Lynchburg area, sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution

• Jimmie Ray Lawson II of Collinsville, serving a five-year sentence for defrauding victims of $2.59 million.

• Troy A. Titus of Virginia Beach, accused of bouncing checks and facing a string of civil suits alleging that he took as much as $3.3 million.

3 comments

  1. I am one of the victims of Mr. Stephen T. Conrad. I was involved in a slip and fall in the bathroom on the same floor I worked and Mr. Conrad told me that I was going to have medical protection from the day (03-18-02) of the fall and that this would never end. Well, when I was made aware of his misconduct and called the Worker’s Comp. Commission in Richmond, VA I was informed that Mr. Conrad had settled the case and that I was not medically covered any longer. I have already lost 6 + years in earnings from work (roughly $400,000.00) and, since 09/04 receive Disability. That amount (now $783.00) doesn’t even cover my mortgage. I am a single Mom of a now 17 yr. old boy, who is in his last year of High School. His college dreams are over, because I had to not only use up all my savings but also his HS fund, just to live and pay the bills. Our lives have drastically changed, and although it’s not Mr. Conrad’s fault that I fell on a chemically treated, wet floor (without any warning signs posted), he was responsible for my restitution, as he was for so many other clients, Unfortunately, I have fallen so ill and have become bedridden in 09-07, with what is called “extreme Fibromyalgia” and onset MS, due to the repetitive trauma from the fall and a rear end collision in 04-02, only 5 short weeks after the fall. I had to have surgery from the fall and broke my wrist but those injuries healed. However, the back, neck and head trauma injuries never did heal and turned into that excruciating disease (Fibromyalgia), which hasn’t even been recognized by the modern medical profession until recently. Trust me, the pictures you see in the commercial for the first approved medicine are all true.
    And to make matters worse, all of the lawyers I tried to retain, either made up excuses not to represent me as soon as they heard the name Conrad, or told me that I was too far away from their home office, although they all claimed to cover the Northern VA and MD area. Lies, I’ve been living with so many lies and promises and today, Mr. Conrad was sentenced to 11 yrs, in prison. Will that heal me? NO! Will I receive restitution for the years of work I have lost (the past 6 1/2 as well as the next 20?) NO! My son and I live in a home with open ceilings due to unrelated water damages and my insures will not cover it. And how much can a little boy (he was only 10 when all this happened) do? Sure, he is 17 now, but who will give him back his “lost” childhood? Next October he will be 18 and out of HS and then what? All his future dreams gone; all he ever comes home to is a mother who lies in bed 24/7. He has to prepare meals, if he wants to eat and do the grocery shopping as well. All because of a greedy, dishonest person, who will be released from prison and can pick up his life where he left off….
    My depression regarding being bedridden and feeling worthless is getting worse by the day and with nothing but Medicare, I can’t even get proper treatment. Beside, how many doctors will still make house-calls. My present physician is almost 30 miles up I-95 and even though my son drives me, the minute we get back home I brake out in tears that shake my body. So, tell me, where do we stand? Is it even a life worth living for……

  2. Birgit,
    I have a similar background with Mr. Conrad. I had fallen at work on ice and then only a few weeks later was rear ended, not a major , but enough to aggrevate the injury from the fall. I was told by my Dr. at the time they would not file with my insurance and it had to go to workmen’s compensation. Well, they denied that claim and we were supposed to continue with my auto insurance and the woman who hit me. OF course, she was not in her own vehicle nor did she have, I was told, valid insurance. My Dr. ended my treatment suddenly, saying I was fine. Well, not the case. I still have pain everyday in my hip, since2004. It started getting worse months ago, but who wants to start seeing Dr’s again after what happened. I too, have contacted others to seek the case, but do not get a good response. The doctor that referred me to Mr. Conrad has been seeking funds from me, that could have been put through my insurance but were not. I have since lost my job due to layoffs and cannot even begin to determine how I would pay them.
    In your case with your son, many college recruiters/sites recommend that if money is an issue to send them to a community college for two years to get their core requirements at a fraction of the cost and he could still apply for a scholarship for the other two. Also, this is what we are hoping to do, our son pursuing an ROTC scholarship. Check out as well http://www.hud.gov, they now are offering many programs for families. It takes some research, but would be worth it.
    My prayers are with you.

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