Inquiry of Las Vegas lawyer Levinson proceeds

Article Courtesy of The Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Jeff German

Published April 8, 2012  


Both sides are turning up the heat in the State Bar of Nevada's push to suspend attorney Barry Levinson over allegations he misappropriated client funds.

Levinson, a politically active lawyer who also is a target in the high-profile federal investigation into fraud and corruption at homeowners associations, denies wrongdoing.

In papers filed with the Nevada Supreme Court, his lawyer argues that his troubles stem from a former bookkeeper who embezzled money from his firm.

Levinson also contends the State Bar is violating its own Supreme Court-mandated rules by publicly dragging his name through the mud.

"For some reason it appears that certain individuals wish to try me in the press through unwarranted and unproven facts, if not innuendo," he said in an interview this week. "I trust that the public and those charged with determining the truth will recognize that such a practice is a bastion of those who lack real evidence.

"I've helped thousands of people in this community for free. And I'm hoping those that I've helped will stand behind me."

But the State Bar told the Supreme Court in its latest filing that Levinson's claims of wrongdoing by his former bookkeeper fall short of explaining his own misconduct and are part of a continuing effort to cover up his actions. Not only has Levinson lied to the State Bar, but as late as March 16, he lied to a district judge at a public hearing about a client's funds, furthering the cover-up, the bar alleged.

The State Bar said it has presented "clear and convincing evidence" that Levinson misappropriated client funds long after he fired his bookkeeper in May 2009.

"Levinson's opposition with this court recycles the same stall tactics and excuses Levinson previously used with the State Bar," the bar wrote.

At the March 16 hearing, District Judge Rob Bare, a former State Bar counsel, said he came close to holding Levinson in contempt and ordering him jailed for 25 days for dragging his feet in setting up an account to safeguard a legal settlement the lawyer had won for a teen client.

Instead, Bare said he was referring the matter to the bar.

In its court papers, the State Bar said Levinson told the judge that he kept the teenager's funds safe, but in reality he had "misappropriated" the funds months earlier.

Levinson contends he was truthful to Bare.

Last month, the State Bar filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court calling Levinson a "substantial threat" to the public and seeking to suspend his license while it conducted formal disciplinary proceedings against him. His firm handles, bankruptcy, foreclosure and personal injury cases.

Levinson committed the "cardinal sin for lawyers by misappropriating money that he was entrusted with for safekeeping," the bar said in its petition.

Bar officials said they didn't have a handle on the amount of money misappropriated, other than it is likely tens of thousands of dollars. Investigators had a hard time tracking the money because Levinson put funds from newer client settlements into accounts for older settlements, officials said.

Levinson, who was admitted to the Nevada bar in December 1998, is listed on the secretary of state's website as the secretary for the conservative Tea Party of Nevada. But Levinson has said he is not that active with the movement.

His battle with the bar isn't the only issue threatening his professional career.

Sources said Levinson is among the lawyers targeted in the federal investigation into the takeover of homeowners associations across the valley.

He once represented associations at Pebble Creek and Park Avenue, which are among a dozen that have been dragged into the investigation.

Levinson insisted that he did not commit any wrongdoing while representing the associations.

"All I did was work honest services," he said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Levinson said he only worked for Pebble Creek for about a month because he didn't get along with construction defects attorney Nancy Quon, a key federal target who was found dead last month in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium. Police do not suspect foul play in her death.

As for Park Avenue, Levinson said he only represented the association in civil litigation.

A Park Avenue condominium owner sued the association in 2008 over allegations of election rigging, and those allegations became part of the federal investigation, which is being spearheaded by the Justice Department's Fraud Section in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors are gearing up for a new round of plea deals in the investigation, which alleges a massive scheme to take over homeowners association boards and then steer legal and construction work to favored firms.

Deaths haven't halted litigation in HOA-related case

Nancy Quon found dead in bathtub