A retired Winston-Salem lawyer has been barred temporarily from handling any client accounts after the N.C. State Bar said he refused to cooperate in an investigation into allegations that he misappropriated funds.
Judge Graham Shirley of Wake Superior Court signed on Monday a temporary restraining order against Bertram Ervin Brown II, who also goes by Ervin Brown. Brown, who has practiced law since 1971, is disputing the allegations.
“It’s a case of total gross incompetency by the State Bar,” Brown said Tuesday, adding that he no longer has any clients. “I’ve been retired...It totally boggles my mind that they’re going through this.”
Brown has been on voluntary inactive status since 2018. Brown said he retired due to health issues. He said he has had seven back surgeries, including one recently.
The State Bar said Brown has not turned over all records that it requested in June 2019 in connection with a grievance that was filed against him. The grievance centered on how Brown handled settlement money in three separate personal injury cases, including at least one from 2015.
In the 2015 case, Brown provided documents that indicated that he wrote a check totaling $5,000 to himself that did not come from the client’s trust account. The money was supposed to pay for Brown’s legal fees, according to Shirley’s order.
The State Bar asked for more information and eventually had to issue a subpoena for the records, which Brown produced this month, the order said. That information “raised additional concerns about Brown’s handling and possible theft of entrusted funds,” according to the order.
The records indicated that Brown had transferred $3,700 on Jan. 5, 2015, into his trust account from a business checking account. Brown wrote that the transfer was to pay medical bills for a client. On Jan. 6, 2015, checks totaling $3,700 cleared Brown’s account, the order said.
“Brown made numerous unattributed transfers in round number amounts from his trust account to his law firm operating account or personal checking account,” the order said.
The State Bar said it needs trust account records “in order to determine whether Brown has misappropriated funds from his trust account and whether he holds the entrusted funds he should be holding in his trust account.”
But Brown said because of his retirement, many of his records are in boxes and not easily accessible.
He and Maria Brown, an attorney with the State Bar, had an agreement that a subpoena would be issued to Wells Fargo, which had the documents, Brown said. The bank provided those documents to Ervin Brown, who then mailed them to the State Bar. But some documents were missing, Brown said.
Brown said the State Bar is accusing him of not cooperating with the investigation simply based on the fact that Wells Fargo didn’t provide all the records in its possession.
He said his client in the case the State Bar is looking at got all of her money, he said. He provided a name and a phone number for the client, who did not immediately respond to a message left on her cellphone.
“It is just total incompetence on the part of the State Bar and I have told them that,” Brown said.
The temporary restraining order is in effect until a hearing scheduled for March 2 on a motion for a preliminary injunction against Brown.
This is not the first time Brown has been in trouble with the State Bar. The agency has censured Brown three separate times for professional misconduct. In one case, he was accused of using derogatory and profane language in a court hearing. He was also censured in another case for failing to file an amended complaint and for not informing his client that his lawsuit had been dismissed.
He also was censured for making improper statements to the press that contained information that was not in the public record and making threatening statements against one of the defendants in a lawsuit.