Justices: Bags of cash, guilty plea merit Seattle lawyer's disbarment
Taking bags of cash left on a judge's chair and in a parking lot — and then pleading guilty to hiding it from the IRS — is reason to believe that Seattle lawyer A. Mark Vanderveen knew he was breaking the law, and that's enough to disbar him, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Taking bags of cash left on a judge's chair and in a parking lot — and then pleading guilty to hiding it from the IRS — is reason to believe that Seattle lawyer A. Mark Vanderveen knew he was breaking the law and that's enough to disbar him, the state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
Vanderveen, a former prosecutor and police officer, has been fighting for nearly four years to retain his license to practice law, arguing that the Washington State Bar Association and its disciplinary board ignored evidence of his good character and wrongly disregarded a hearing officer's findings and recommendation that his license be suspended for three years.
The high court, in an 8-1 decision, said there was ample evidence that Vanderveen knew the $20,000 he took from a colleague, James L. White, was illegal.
He hid it in a safe in his house and didn't report it, the justices pointed out, whereas his normal procedure in his law practice was to deposit cash payments the same day and immediately enter them in an accounting system. One $10,000 installment was left in a bag on the judge's chair in Edmonds Municipal Court — where both men worked as part-time judges — and another in a city parking lot.
Moreover, he pleaded guilty to a federal felony for not reporting the $20,000 to the IRS, the justices said. He served three months in prison and three months' home confinement.
Vanderveen, 49, took the money from White as payment to represent a drug courier named Wesley Cornett in a federal drug-conspiracy case involving large quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. White represented Cornett's boss in the drug ring, Robert Kesling.
White and Vanderveen then spied on Cornett for Kesling, trying to see if he was cooperating with federal investigators or if he knew the whereabouts of a trailer containing $1 million worth of marijuana that had disappeared, according to court documents. Federal prosecutors argued Cornett would have been killed if he had been outed as an informant.
White was sentenced to 18 months in prison for money laundering — he took more than $250,000 in drug money, including $100,000 in a kickback from Kesling. He agreed to disbarment in 2006.
After his conviction, Vanderveen argued he didn't know he needed to report the money when he took it and said he didn't intentionally break the law.
However, the court noted that he pleaded guilty, which indicates just the opposite.
"We find that Vanderveen's felony conviction and other undisputed facts in this case support the conclusion that he acted dishonestly," wrote Justice Charles Johnson for the majority.
A dissent was filed by Justice Richard Sanders, who argued that suspension was the proper penalty based on prior, similar disciplinary cases.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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