Local attorney’s license revoked

Published 10:33 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A three-judge panel on Wednesday stripped a Suffolk attorney of his license to practice law after concluding that his actions at a law firm in the city amounted to embezzlement, whether or not criminal charges were brought against him.

Edward Ruffin House, who was fired from Stallings & Bischoff P.C. in January, had his law license revoked when the judges agreed with the Virginia State Bar that he had violated three rules dealing with how clients’ money and payments should be handled.

House admitted and the judges agreed that he had failed to turn over to his employer state payments for representing poor clients and that he had failed to turn over or properly account for thousands of dollars in cash payments from other clients.

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“Sometimes you get a mindset and you convince yourself that something’s OK,” the 36-year-old Suffolk native told a panel of judges that had been brought in to hear the case.

His plan, he said, was to hold back funds from a few good months in 2009 to deposit in 2010 so that he might be seen as having earned enough fees to be considered for partnership in the firm.

After he was confronted by the managing partner at Stallings & Bischoff’s Suffolk branch because of books that would not balance, House was called on Jan. 18 to Virginia Beach, where he met with Moody E. “Sonny” Stallings Jr., one of the principles in the law firm.

Stallings testified on Wednesday that House brought with him to that meeting a “blue Tidewater Tides lunchbox” filled with $11,000 in cash and receipts from clients and about $19,000 in state pay vouchers.

He told Stallings during that meeting that he had spent between $5,000 and $10,000 of the money. Later, Stallings said, he received a telephone call from House, who told him he would pay the firm $20,000 in reimbursement, “just in case we found anything else.”

“I wished him luck. I knew he was going to have problems with the Bar, and I kind of hoped he wasn’t going to have problems with Mr. Ferguson,” Stallings said, referring to Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson.

Later, that check arrived in the mail, along with a note from House. The note asked that Stallings forgive House and not involve “any other parties.”

In fact, Stallings did not report House to law enforcement agencies, he said, but he was duty-bound to report him to the State Bar Association.

House, who spent time working as a golf pro in between his graduation from the University of Virginia and enrolling in Regent University’s law school, told the judges that passing the bar exam in 2004 “was undoubtedly one of the best days in my life.”

His law license, he said, “means everything to me. It’s my life.”

The day he was fired from Stallings & Bischoff, he added, “was undoubtedly one of the worst days of my life. I just really came to grips with the fact that I’d done wrong. I was sorry, because it dawned on me finally that what I was doing was wrong. I kept saying to myself, ‘Why would you do that?’”

House’s revocation was to have taken effect immediately. He does not currently face any criminal action connected to the incident.