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A former Secret Service agent turned Maryland energy lawyer is on the verge of losing his D.C. law license for stealing $35,000 from his one-time client Shell Energy. The D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility recommended on Nov. 3 that Thomas Kinnane be disbarred. Kinnane, a former name partner at Annapolis, Md.’s Howes & Kinnane, received probation as part of a plea deal in 2003 after being charged with felony theft for a kickback scheme involving a former Shell employee. Late last year the Court of Appeals of Maryland disbarred Kinnane. According to court records, in 1998, while an associate with Fort Washington, Md.-based Alexander & Cleaver, Kinnane was introduced to Andrew Chau, the Houston-based manager of regulatory affairs for Shell Energy. Kinnane’s practice at the time focused on representing energy companies that had issues pending before government regulatory agencies. The two struck an agreement for Kinnane to represent Shell Energy. Over the next three years, the company remained a client of Kinnane’s, staying with him after he left Alexander & Cleaver to form Howes & Kinnane. According to the Court of Appeals of Maryland, Kinnane met with Chau in Washington, D.C., in July 2001. The two discussed Shell Energy retaining Kinnane’s future services for $70,000. Until then, Shell Energy had paid Kinnane for his legal services only after tasks had been completed. Court documents show Kinnane drafted a retainer agreement on July 26, 2001, that described the legal services as, “Nevada regulatory and government relations activities, 2001 session and implementation.” On Aug. 8, 2001, Shell Energy paid Kinnane $70,000 through an electronic wire transfer. According to court records, Chau told Kinnane to keep the entire retainer as a bonus for work he had already performed. Chau then asked Kinnane to give him $35,000 as compensation for bringing in Shell Energy as a client and for any future business the company or its affiliated businesses might produce for Kinnane. Kinnane complied. That same day, Howes & Kinnane submitted an invoice to Shell Energy showing a payment of $35,000 was made to Chau for a “consulting fee.” Kinnane also gave a 1099 tax form to Chau to properly report the payment. But the payments were not properly authorized by Shell Energy. According to court documents, Kinnane received a phone call from Judith Burow, vice president of Shell Energy, in the fall of 2001, seeking return of the $70,000 retainer. The documents say Chau then acknowledged to Kinnane that the payment “might not have been approved.” Court records show Kinnane testified that he didn’t return the money because he remained under the impression that the dispute was an internal matter and didn’t concern him. Soon it did. Chau was fired by Shell Energy and criminal charges were filed against him and Kinnane in April 2003 in Harris County, Texas, district court, which is where Shell Energy’s main office is located. That same day, Mark Howes, who is now a solo practitioner in Annapolis, says he ended his partnership with Kinnane, wanting to have no part in the criminal trial’s fallout. Howes declined to comment further. In an e-mail response to a request for comment, Kinnane said: “This unfortunate matter occurred due entirely to an unscrupulous Shell employee’s desire to defraud his employer. Both Shell and I were victimized by this person.” Chau could not be located for comment. Details on criminal charges against Chau could not be obtained at press time. In deciding to disbar Kinnane, the Appeals Court of Maryland found: “Respondent’s [Kinnane] invoice for $70,000 retainer made no reference to the fact that it was to be a retainer for future services. Nothing on the bill would alert the client [Shell Energy] to the fact that the payment requested was not for services already performed.” Kinnane objected to the Maryland Bar Counsel’s conclusion that he must have believed the money was a kickback. He also provided information that assisted in the prosecution of Chau, cooperated with Maryland Bar Counsel’s investigation, and claimed the $35,000 on his annual state and federal tax returns. But the Appeals Court of Maryland concluded that in pleading guilty, Kinnane accepted the Texas court’s ruling that “he could not have believed reasonably that Mr. Chau had been authorized by Shell Energy to pay him a bonus to be shared by Mr. Chau.” Kinnane entered a deferred adjudication of guilt, which is not a conviction but a form of probation. He was fined $2,000 and was ordered to pay Shell $35,000. Last month, the nine-member D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility unanimously concluded that Kinnane violated the D.C. Bar Rules of Professional Conduct — agreeing with the D.C. Bar Counsel that the crime involved moral turpitude. The D.C. Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the board’s recommendation that Kinnane be disbarred.
OTHER RECENT D.C. ETHICS CASES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: • Though he has more pressing issues, such as preparing to spend 18 months in federal prison, David Safavian learned on Nov. 3 that he was officially recommended for disbarment by the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility. The decision was based on Savafian committing a crime involving moral turpitude. Safavian, former chief of staff of the General Services Administration, was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia of concealing efforts to assist disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in acquiring two properties controlled by the GSA, and also of hiding from federal investigators details of a lavish golf trip he took with Abramoff to Scotland and London in the summer of 2002. Safavian remains free pending an appeal of his conviction. The D.C. Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the disbarment recommendation.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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