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Lawyer accused of mishandling client funds asks for license to be reinstated

Photo of Robert Fojo standing with his attorney inside court
Todd Bookman/NHPR
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Robert Fojo, left, inside the Supreme Court, with his attorney William Saturley

A prominent Bedford attorney accused of mishandling client funds appeared before a judge Tuesday to challenge the temporary suspension of his law license.

Robert Fojo has filed several lawsuits in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Florida over mask mandates and other COVID-19 safety measures in schools during the pandemic. To date, he doesn't appear to have prevailed in any of those cases, which have rung up legal bills for public schools.

But it is his mishandling of client funds in other cases that landed him before the state Attorney Discipline Office. In mid-December, that office filed a petition asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to temporarily suspend Fojo’s license, alleging he mishandled approximately $100,000 in client money and wasn’t truthful with investigators during a months-long inquiry.

“When a lawyer overpays himself, and uses the funds of Peter to pay Paul, it is a dangerous state of affairs,” Elizabeth Murphy, an investigator with the Attorney Discipline Office, told retired Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler, who was appointed to the case.

The Attorney Discipline Office alleged Fojo failed to pay a client several thousand dollars following a settlement in a slip-and-fall case, as well as commingled client funds in other matters, while continuing to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself. The Attorney Discipline Office argued Fojo’s conduct puts his clients, the public, and the reputation of the legal profession in danger.

“If Mr. Fojo does not understand the basic concept of, ‘It’s not your money, don't put it in your pocket,’ then he lacks the honesty to be an attorney, and for protecting the public and the integrity of the profession,” Mark Cornell, also with the Attorney Discipline Office, said Tuesday.

Fojo admits that he mishandled client money, but blames his own lack of experience in accounting, a new software system, and an inexperienced office assistant. He also maintains he was truthful and forthcoming with regulators, who spent months investigating his finances before seeking his temporary suspension.

“He used a shortcut, a bad bookkeeping error,” William Saturley, a lawyer representing Fojo, told the court Tuesday. “Not a lie. And not stealing.”

Saturley said the suspension shortly before Christmas left no time for his client to find other counsel to represent his clients, and that media coverage of the suspension has harmed Fojo’s reputation without due process.

“He deserves that chance to have a hearing, as well. To demonstrate that he may have been neglectful, but he wasn’t a thief. He hasn’t had that chance, and he’s out of business,” Saturley said.

Smukler didn’t issue an immediate decision Tuesday on whether Fojo can continue practicing law while his disciplinary case proceeds.