Representative Daniel K. Webster, a ranking Republican in the Massachusetts House who had his law license suspended in 2010, has been accused by state bar investigators of intentionally misusing client funds, and could be disbarred if the allegations are proved.
The Office of the Bar Counsel, an independent state agency that investigates complaints against lawyers, brought the complaint last month, following an investigation into Webster’s handling of the estate of Rita Hayward, the deceased mother of one of his clients.
A member of the House since 2003, Webster is the ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee and the Joint Committee on Election Laws and the assistant ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is charged with overseeing $30 billion in state spending.
According to the agency’s eight-page report, Webster “intentionally converted at least $30,000 of the Hayward estate funds for his own personal purposes or those of his other clients or parties unrelated to the Hayward estate” between June 2009 and June 2010.
When Rita Hayward’s three adult children requested money from their mother’s estate, the account was low on funds, so Webster deposited two checks totaling $34,917 of his own money into the account, and then paid the children, investigators allege.
The bar counsel’s investigation also alleged repeated instances of improper bookkeeping. For example, bar investigators say Webster deposited the money from the estate into an existing account that he used for client funds, instead of putting it in a separate trust account, as required by state professional codes. That code is designed to protect clients’ money.
Webster will have an opportunity to contest the allegations in a hearing before the Board of Bar Overseers, which will determine what sanctions, if any, he will receive. Punishment could range from a reprimand to revocation of his law license.
Webster, a 48-year-old Pembroke legislator, declined to discuss the case in detail. In a statement to the Globe, he wrote, “I am cooperating with the Bar Counsel in order to bring a final conclusion to this longstanding matter.”
Webster said the case began two and half years ago, when his bank reported to state bar officials that he had overdrawn the account he uses for clients. He then deposited more money into the account, he said. No clients have complained to bar officials, and no clients were deprived of their money, he said.
Webster said the downturn in the real estate market had hurt his law practice, forcing him to lay off staff in his law office. “Unfortunately, this led to poor accounting practices,” which led to him overdrawing his client account, he said.
Webster has had problems with his law practice and political activities in the past.
In 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court suspended his law license for three weeks after he failed to comply with requests by bar investigators who were looking into reports of bounced checks from the same account involved in this investigation.
In 2009, state campaign finance officials fined Webster $1,000 after he failed to accurately report campaign expenditures and contributions between 2005 and 2007.