A longtime Rockville lawyer was ordered yesterday to get counseling and pay back more than $130,000 he stole from two clients, but a judge said that the public humiliation he has suffered was sufficient punishment and that his crime didn't warrant prison.
Jeffrey C. Taylor, 47, was ordered to serve five years of probation, during which he must get treatment for his alcoholism, perform 200 hours of community service and pay $3,000 in fines. Taylor, whose attorney said he already has paid $70,000 to partially reimburse one victim, also must pay full restitution, according to the ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge D. Warren Donohue.
The judge suspended a five-year prison sentence, which Taylor could be ordered to serve if he violates his probation.
Assistant State's Attorney Frank Molony asked that Taylor be sentenced to one year in prison because he stole the money over the course of three years from especially vulnerable people, but Donohue said he believed the lawyer had already been punished.
"He's now a convicted felon, he's lost his career, and he's experienced the pain of humiliation," Donohue said. "I think that's substantial."
Taylor pleaded guilty in August to two counts of felony theft and one count of fraud by a fiduciary for stealing more than $102,000 from one family's estate and trust fund and $33,700 from an escrow account of a woman whose divorce he was handling. He also pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice for trying to cover up the theft by lying about it under oath to another judge and other lawyers.
Two friends from Taylor's Georgetown University law school class of 1977 testified that Taylor was an alcoholic whose otherwise admirable life began to crumble in the past several years, when his marriage failed and his longtime secretary and his sister died.
But Taylor, tearfully apologizing for the thefts, attributed them to "avarice, arrogance and alcohol."
"This is a case of greed, your honor," Taylor said, his voice choking with emotion. "I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I did it, and I lied about it, and I continued to do it . . . I stole it from people who were really defenseless."
Taylor said he also wanted to apologize to his fellow lawyers, for sullying the reputation of their profession, and to the public, who might be more leery of their attorneys after hearing about what he had done.
Defense attorney Paul Kemp said that Taylor's law license was suspended indefinitely in July and that he is facing disbarment proceedings. Recently, Kemp said, Taylor has been doing legal research for several Montgomery lawyers but has been forbidden to give legal advice or have contact with clients.
Annalise LaHood, whose deceased father's estate and deceased brother's trust were wiped out by Taylor, said she was disappointed that her onetime attorney didn't get prison time. She said the financial loss devastated her family, leaving her unable to afford basic medical care for her three children or money for the cemetery fee to bury her brother's ashes. She said she had planned to use money from her father's estate for St. Joseph's House, a nonprofit day-care facility she and her husband operate for severely disabled children.
"He knew these kids were vulnerable, and he knew I was vulnerable," LaHood told the judge. "I think Jeff waited for my father to die so he could steal those funds. . . . Mr. Taylor lied over and over."