ELKINS — A lawyer has pleaded guilty to a charge alleging she defrauded the state of almost $160,000 earmarked for legal work in cases where criminal defendants can’t afford a lawyer.
Lisa A. Weese, admitted to the West Virginia State Bar in 1995 and a private practitioner in criminal and civil law from Barbour County, entered her plea Tuesday in Elkins.
The charge accuses her, among other things, of billing for working every hour in the day for nearly 50 days, and for more than 16 hours a day for nearly 170 days.
U.S. Magistrate John S. Kaull presided over the plea, although final disposition of the case will be handled by Chief District Judge John Preston Bailey.
West Virginia Public Defender Services is an executive branch agency that disburses state funds to lawyers who represent criminal defendants who couldn’t otherwise afford it. This process protects the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.
Some state counties, such as Harrison, have full-time, salaried public defenders who do this work. But in counties where that isn’t the case, a circuit judge chooses a lawyer from a panel.
The charging document alleges that Weese was a panel attorney for Barbour, Randolph, Tucker and Taylor from September 2006 through September 20011.
Weese submitted 682 vouchers by mail to West Virginia Public Defender Services during that period, the charge alleges.
She assigned the amounts due to Daniels Capital Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., or to Attorney Finance Corp. of Huntington via FAX transmissions, the charge alleges. Attorneys often assign amounts owed them by Public Defender Services due to the state agency’s slow pace in making payments, the charge alleges. Daniels Capital and Attorney Finance pay lawyers the amount owed minus their cut, then receive full payment later on from West Virginia Public Defender Services, according to the charge.
“Spread throughout these 682 vouchers, (Weese) reported that she worked more than 24 hours on each of (48) days, and she reported that she worked more than 16 hours on an additional (168) days,” the charge alleges.
Weese falsely reported on vouchers submitted to the agency that she worked as a panel attorney more than 10 hours on each of 537 days, the government alleged.
Panel attorneys are paid $45 an hour for out-of-court time and $65 an hour for in-court work, according to the charge.
The mail fraud part of the charge involves one transaction in which she mailed a fraudulent voucher claiming about $8,225 for representation of a defendant, the government alleged.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Warner and Weese’s veteran counsel, Elkins attorney Steve Jory, disagree about restitution, making that an issue for Bailey to determine. Work Weese did may or may not also have involved Harrison County, according to the plea agreement.
The sides also disagree “whether the value of her legal services in these cases should be used to offset restitution,” the plea agreement asserts.
Additionally, the government and defense are at odds over whether Weese should face a potentially more severe sentence “for abuse of position of trust,” according to the agreement.
To pay back her debt, the defendant has agreed to give up 25 cents on every dollar of her net wages, salary or commission until any monetary penalty and restitution is paid in full.
Weese, a Belington-based lawyer, has had her member status annulled by the West Virginia State Bar, according to a search of that organization’s website.
She was released Tuesday on a personal recognizance bond.