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Lawyer disbarred, practice put in receivership

Peter Vieth//March 29, 2021

Lawyer disbarred, practice put in receivership

Peter Vieth//March 29, 2021

A Virginia attorney who defied judges’ orders and largely ignored his 2019 license suspension has been disbarred and had his practice placed under control of a receiver.

After disciplinary actions initiated by the Virginia State Bar and sanctions imposed by trial judges, John B. Russell Jr. is now revoked and barred from his Midlothian offices.

The final blow came from a trio of circuit court judges sitting in Chesterfield County who determined in October that Russell should be disbarred. The court’s memorandum order was entered March 22.

Another Chesterfield County judge had appointed a receiver for Russell’s practice in November.

Russell also faces a criminal charge of unauthorized practice of law and a civil action accusing him of failing to safeguard loan money for a real estate transaction.

Loan modification operation

Russell seemed to disregard the trouble coming his way. He was “indifferent” to the proposal that he make restitution to alleged victims of a loan modification operation when he fought ethics charges in 2019, according to the VSB Disciplinary Board. His 33 rule violations that year brought a two-year suspension. The board concluded he allowed his name to be used for a mortgage relief business while a non-lawyer partner controlled client money.

The VSB Disciplinary Board added another three years to Russell’s suspension in 2020, determining that he continued to represent clients after the earlier suspension. Russell acknowledged that he never sent the required certified-mail notices to clients and opposing counsel, but he contended he “functionally complied” with the rules’ notice requirements. The five-member discipline panel disagreed.

It was a relatively minor complaint that brought the ultimate disciplinary action for Russell. He was accused of overlooking his duties as trustee of a son’s half interest in a family home following divorce of the parents. When the son turned 25 and requested information on the expected termination of the trust, Russell did not respond, the bar said.

The son filed a bar complaint. Russell reportedly told the VSB investigator that he had no file on the trust, no copy of the trust agreement and no recollection of communicating with those involved.

The Chesterfield three-judge panel revoked Russell’s license to practice effective Oct. 23. The order was signed by Chief Judge Designate Bryant L. Sugg of Newport News along with Judge Bonnie L. Jones of Hampton and retired Judge William R. Savage III of Suffolk.

Receivership, criminal charge

The VSB on April 28 asked the Chesterfield court to appoint a receiver to take over Russell’s practice. Chief Judge Edward A. Robbins Jr. agreed on Nov. 24, naming Michael P. Tittermary of Mechanicsville as receiver. His assignment includes taking control of and inventorying Russell’s client files and other client information.

Russell is scheduled for a May 7 jury trial in Lancaster County, where he is charged with practicing as an attorney without a license. A judge there vacated a civil order endorsed by Russell after the judge learned of Russell’s suspension by the bar, according to VSB documents. Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Spencer brought charges in January of last year. Spencer declined to comment March 23 on a case with a pending jury trial.

Russell faces a demand of more than $10 million in damages in a civil case in Richmond Circuit Court. He is accused of fraud for allegedly failing to protect a lender who expected to get a $187,000 security interest in a prominent Richmond home.

According to VSB records, Russell was held in contempt of court in Richmond Circuit Court in 2019 in an action filed by the commonwealth. He also was named in a no-bond capias issued by a judge in Madison County in connection with the transfer of a case to a new attorney, the bar said.

Russell, 68, declined to comment.

Russell’s online biography says he practiced for 18 years as a state and federal prosecutor, including service as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Virginia. He was a senior assistant attorney general and chief of the investigative and enforcement section of the Virginia attorney general’s office, his bio says. He chaired the criminal law section of the Virginia Bar Association in 2004-2005, the bio said.

Russell is the son of the late John B. “Jack” Russell of Richmond, who practiced law for 60 years and was known as a leader in medical malpractice defense. The senior Russell died in 2015.

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