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‘Mistakes were made’: Former St. Louis mayor faces discipline

Attorney Freeman Bosley Jr., who was St. Louis’ first African-American mayor, allegedly mishandled client money and could face discipline, according to documents obtained by Missouri Lawyers Media.

Bosley deposited payments to his firm in a client trust account, paid operating and personal expenses out of the account, and bounced checks issued on behalf of clients, according to a legal document called an information from the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates allegations of misconduct by lawyers.

The information is dated June 3 but became open to the public Sept. 6 when Bosley’s attorney, Mike Downey of Armstrong Teasdale, on Monday filed an answer to the allegations. Under a Missouri Supreme Court order that took effect last year, discipline records become public when an answer is filed.

Bosley, who was mayor for a four-year term that ended in 1997, since has been in private practice. He is the managing partner and only principal of Bosley & Associates, according to the answer. Bosley and three other attorneys are listed for the downtown St. Louis firm on Lawyers.com, an online directory operated by LexisNexis and Martindale-Hubbell.

In the answer, Downey said that Bosley & Associates struggled to handle an influx of clients and work during the time cited in the information. The information cites incidents from January 2011 to early this year.

“It’s the tough problem that many small-firm lawyers face,” Downey said about handling client and operating money in a phone interview.

Complaints about the handling of trust accounts are among the more common investigated by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel since a rule change requiring banks to report overdrafts from the accounts took effect in 2010.

Downey said Bosley would not speak to a reporter.

Bosley has hired people and set up systems to make sure nothing happens again, Downey said, but he didn’t have details on the new hires. In addition to the four attorneys, two staff members are listed for the firm on Lawyers.com.

The answer forgoes the standard format listing individual responses, usually “deny” to each count listed in an information. Bosley doesn’t contest the allegations, the answer says. But it does cite difficulties faced by the “administrative infrastructure” of the firm.

“Mr. Bosley did not fully appreciate the strains the increased administrative and accounting demands were placing on his firm’s infrastructure,” the answer said. “Mistakes were made, primarily regarding disbursements of funds to third-parties and the selection of accounts into which certain payments intended for the firm were deposited.

“As the managing partner and sole principal of his law firm, Mr. Bosley accepts responsibility for the mistakes that occurred and the conduct charged in the information.”

The case now could go before a hearing panel, which would make a recommendation, or Bosley could reach a stipulation with the OCDC on the facts and a recommended discipline. Disciplines include letters of admonition, which do not require Missouri Supreme Court orders, and more severe sanctions, such as reprimands or probation, which do.

Bosley deposited regular fees earned from businesses including a utility, board of education, real estate development and healthcare management companies into the trust account, says the information signed by attorney Barry Klinckhardt. Bosley also paid personal or operating expenses out of the account, and bounced checks or failed to pay money on behalf of clients for medical and other costs, including bouncing a $16,666 check paid to the Missouri Department of Social Services checks on behalf of a client for a medical lien.

All parties mentioned in the information have received the money they were entitled to, the answer said. The discipline case didn’t originate with a complaint from a client or a third party, it said.

Bosley won 66.5 percent of the vote to take office in 1993, and he oversaw the response to the historic flood that year. He helped orchestrate a $70 million bailout of Trans World Airlines, according to information on the St. Louis Public Library website. He also helped lead the effort to bring the Rams football team to St. Louis from Los Angeles and worked to get two property tax increases passed, boosting nearly empty city accounts to $30 million at the end of his term, Bosley said in a April 25 article in the St. Louis American commemorating the 20th anniversary of his inauguration.

But Bosley’s administration also was marred by scandal, including when donated money for the Midnight Basketball program went missing. The program was intended to give young people an alternative to the streets and crime.

“A few of the people that I trusted stole money from this program,” Bosley said in the St. Louis American article. “A leader must take responsibility for the actions of his people.”

Bosley ran unsuccessfully for re-election and also lost the race on another attempt in 2001.

Bosley came under scrutiny in a series of St. Louis Post-Dispatch articles last year for a 2006 land deal with the Missouri History Museum. When he was serving as museum trustee, he began talking with the museum about selling a one-acre plot of land he owned, the newspaper reported. The museum bought the land for $875,000, not including assessments and fees, after Bosley stepped down from the board.

Bosley said in an interview with the Post-Dispatch last year that the land deal had no “connection with being on the board.”