DELAWARE, Ohio — A former Delaware attorney accused of stealing from clients is hoping to avoid prison time.
Robert M. Owens, 49, was indicted last year on five counts of felony theft and one count of grand theft. Chief among the charges is the grand theft charge, which accuses Owens of stealing $103,996.95 from a client who hired Owens for representation in a divorce case.
According to documents filed with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct, Owens was hired for the divorce case on September 12, 2018. Owens told his client to deposit more than $60,000 with him, as the cost of representation could easily meet or exceed that amount. Documents say the client was told the money could only be accessed by Owens once it was earned.
The client paid Owens $27,095 in cash and an additional $30,000 wired from two credit cards. Court documents say $20,067 of the cash was placed into various personal and business accounts controlled by Owens. The rest was placed into an IOLTA account, which is a type of trust account where attorneys deposit client funds.
Between September 17, 2018 and April 3, 2019, the client wired more money from 12 different credit cards, an investment account and a health savings account. In all, more than $150,000 was collected from the client.
Once the divorce was finalized, the total attorney fees and expenses totaled $45,827.50. This meant the client was due a refund of $103,996.95.
Disciplinary counsel documents allege that Owens transferred money from his IOLTA into personal accounts in a series of transactions starting in February of 2020. By June 30, 2021, the balance in the IOLTA was $5.61.
Owens is accused of stealing money from five other clients ,in amounts ranging from $1,700 to $6,900.
On May 2, Owens entered a written guilty plea on all charges, but applied for intervention in lieu of conviction. In applying for the intervention, Owens’ attorney said that mental illness was a leading factor in the offenses.
If accepted for intervention, Owens would be placed on probation. After completing the requirements of the intervention plan, the case would be dismissed, and no conviction would be on his record.
A hearing on the application for intervention is scheduled for June 20.
Lawyer no more
Robert Owens graduated from Capital University Law School and began practicing law in 1998. According to his LinkedIn profile, he worked for more than two years at a Columbus law firm before becoming a prosecutor for Sunbury, Ohio. In 2003 he began his own private practice.
Owens’ first run-in with the Disciplinary Counsel was in 2018. In that case, Owens was accused of using a check drawn from client funds in order to pay another client’s overdue spousal support, in order to keep that client out of jail. The Ohio Supreme Court placed Owens on probation for the incident, threatening a one-year suspension from practice of law if that probation was violated.
In 2021, a disciplinary case was brought against Owens for the alleged theft of client funds. Owens never responded to that case, and was suspended from practicing law indefinitely. Records show that Owens then resigned from the practice of law with disciplinary action pending. His LinkedIn profile shows that he left his solo practice in December of 2020.
Since July of 2021, Owens has worked as a regional field director for the John Birch Society, a conservative political advocacy group. His biography on the John Birch Society website describes him as a ‘retired attorney.’ A page for his bi-weekly Constitution Corner video series describe him as a legal expert.
Owens has also appeared as a guest on Infowars with Alex Jones.
What is an IOLTA?
IOLTA stands for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts. According to the Disciplinary Counsel, any lawyer who operates in Ohio must use an IOLTA to hold client funds that have not yet been earned.
Money in an IOLTA can only be withdrawn by a lawyer when it is earned by providing legal services, or for making payments on behalf of a client. Borrowing money from an IOLTA, even with the intention of paying it back, is grounds for disciplinary action.