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Attorney gets 3-year probation for mismanaged trust account

A St. Louis County attorney is on probation for three years after the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel argued for his disbarment a week prior.

The Missouri Supreme Court en banc’s March 7 order also directs Thayer Lance Weaver Jr. to pay $1,500 to the Advisory Committee Fund.

“Mr. Weaver appreciates the Supreme Court taking the time to analyze all of the facts of this matter and issue an order that allows for him to continue to serve his clients and the community,” Larry R. Smith of Brinker & Doyen in Clayton, an attorney for Weaver, said in an emailed a statement.

Weaver runs TLW & Associates, a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm, and has practiced for 27 years. According to an audit from the OCDC, Weaver repeatedly withdrew more funds than deposited but did not have a negative balance during the audit because he stored personal and earned funds in the account and did not always immediately pay out funds.

“The account was not actually overdrawn because Respondent continued to deposit settlement checks from new clients and because he allowed earned fees to remain in that account,” the OCDC brief states. “Additionally, there were extra funds in the account because Respondent did not always promptly disburse funds to clients and third-party lienholders.”

A 2022 panel had recommended a one-year suspension, while the OCDC argued that he should be disbarred.

Weaver claimed that after he had discovered in 2019 that there were discrepancies in his client trust account, he created an account to ensure that clients were not harmed while he tried to reconcile the account.

Sam Phillips, an attorney for the OCDC, asked the court during Feb. 27 oral arguments not to accept what they considered as another misappropriation violation as a defense.

“I hope the court rejects that wealth defense,” Phillips said. “The idea that these are only isolated errant withdrawals and isolated, errant deposits is concerning.”

Smith said during arguments that the account was created after Weaver realized the client trust account was overdrawn by $28,000 after his bookkeeper fell ill.

“But he created this account with his own money consisting of hundreds of thousands of dollars that he would have available during this period of time if there was some sort of an imbalance,” Smith said.

Smith said that Weaver sought probation modeled after In re: Crawford, in which an attorney received probation for a similar set of discrepancies in a client trust account. Weaver has since hired an accountant, though he claimed this was delayed due to hiring difficulties.

Weaver also used the trust account for personal expenses, including to purchase a dog and pay a $10,000 credit card payment, and for firm expenses on occasion, including two payroll payments in 2020. He also deposited a mixture of earned and unearned fees from a petty cash account into the client trust account and testified that he could not determine how much of the funds were unearned.

Weaver had a practice of transferring bulk amounts of money from the client trust account without documenting earned fees from specific clients.

“Respondent testified during his sworn statement that as a matter of ‘practice’ he would withdraw some cash right after depositing a settlement check, and that he considered those funds his ‘cash reserve,’” the OCDC brief stated.

Weaver did this with several clients’ funds, which resulted in drawing against the funds of other clients to prevent a client’s negative balances.

He also received a $1,700 check from the Cleveland Indians baseball franchise addressed to a different entity and cashed the check into his client trust account though he didn’t have a case or relationship with either company. He did not attempt to return the funds until the OCDC notified him. Weaver himself spoke to the court during oral arguments and claimed these were unintentional mistakes.

“Keeping accurate records and reconciling my trust account in a timely fashion are essential to upholding our profession’s integrity,” Weaver said.

Weaver had past admonishments for competence and safekeeping property in 2006 and over-drafting his trust account in 2010.

The case is In re: Weaver, SC99805.