State Bar to Reimburse Client Losses

December 20, 2023

Ninety people who lost money or other property through the death or dishonest conduct of their attorney will have their losses reimbursed by the Oklahoma Bar Association this year. The OBA Clients’ Security Fund will pay out more than $210,000 to those clients of deceased, suspended or former lawyers whose actions led to the losses.

Claims against the fund result when an attorney misappropriates client funds or property, is then disbarred or dies, and there is no other source for compensation or recovery. The OBA Clients’ Security Fund Committee reviews client claims and annually makes recommendations to the OBA Board of Governors on the merits of those claims.

OBA President Brian Hermanson of Ponca City said, “The Clients’ Security Fund enables us to maintain the public trust in the integrity of the legal profession. Members of our association collectively take action to restore the confidence of those who have been harmed by the dishonesty of a very small number of former attorneys who have violated that trust. All active Oklahoma lawyers contribute to the fund through a portion of their annual bar dues, and more than $4 million in reimbursements has been paid to clients since the fund was created in 1965.”

In 2023, 84 claims against deceased attorney Mike Arnett of Oklahoma City were approved for payment.

OBA Clients’ Security Fund Committee Chair Micheal Salem of Norman said most of the claims against the fund this year resulted from Arnett’s failure to follow the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the safeguarding of client funds or property. Other instances of dishonest conduct and resulting claims against the fund typically arise when attorneys become unstable as a result of a personal crisis, substance abuse or illness.

“Our purpose is to rebuild confidence in our profession by fairly compensating these victims,” Salem said. “The reputation of every Oklahoma lawyer is damaged when a very small number of attorneys engage in unethical or illegal behavior.”

In addition to the 84 approved claims against Arnett totaling $203,143.02, clients of six other former attorneys will be reimbursed. Those former attorneys and the amount being paid to their clients are Melinda Dunlap, deceased, $1,700; Jeff Herrick, deceased, $1,044; Tuan Khuu, Oklahoma City, $4,712.83; John Everett Parris, Sand Springs, $1,000; Jason David Smith, Jay, $1,750; and Paul Sowinski, deceased, $750.

More information about the Clients’ Security Fund can be found on the OBA website at www.okbar.org/gc/clients-security-fund.

The 18,000-member Oklahoma Bar Association, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to advance the administration of justice and to foster and maintain learning, integrity, competence, public service and high standards of conduct among Oklahoma’s legal community.

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