A Seymour lawyer who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease faces a felony charge and a disciplinary complaint seeking his emergency suspension from the practice of law.
Stephen S. Pierson, 69, was charged in July with a single count of Level 6 felony aiding, inducing or causing welfare fraud. A Family and Social Services Administration investigation determined that Pierson had paid an office assistant in cash so that she could receive food stamps and Medicaid benefits for herself and/or her children. The worker, Teresa Cantu, also is charged with Level 6 felony welfare fraud and Level 6 felony perjury, according to Jackson County court records.
The charges allege the amount of the fraudulent benefits is $6,526.47. An FSSA investigator said witnesses said Pierson was paying Cantu at least $500 a week in cash that she failed to report in applying for benefits.
Last month, the Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission issued a petition for an emergency interim suspension of Pierson’s license, recommended based on a vote of three-quarters of the commission members, in part due to the criminal charges.
Additionally, the commission had been investigating grievances about Pierson for more than a year before filing a complaint. The commission’s complaint says Jackson Superior Judge Bruce MacTavish in June 2015 informed the commission that Pierson’s condition had left him impaired “to the extent that he cannot adequately represent his clients.”
Former employees in Pierson’s firm and those who shared space in the office allege that Pierson represented them in personal injury actions and failed to fully remit settlement proceeds. They also allege that Pierson distributed assets from an estate without authority from the court, and that Cantu, who is not a lawyer, decides which cases to take, sets fees, prepares pleadings without supervision, and receives or splits fees from personal injury cases.
Pierson denies the allegations or the commission’s characterization of witnesses’ allegations in a reply filed by his attorney, Don Lundberg. He moved that the petition be dismissed or a hearing ordered in a petition that characterized at least one witness as “a disgruntled former employee.”
He noted MacTavish’s letter from June 2015 wasn’t furnished to the Supreme Court until Aug. 10, and the accusations against Pierson are “based on at least two and probably three levels of hearsay – the Executive Secretary’s, unknown members of his staff, and various individuals who purportedly made statements to unidentified members of the Commission staff.”
Lundberg wrote that Pierson “cannot reasonably be expected to answer vague, second-hand hearsay allegations.”
The commission noted Pierson’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and said he asserted that his “symptoms have improved due to experimental medication he has received. The respondent’s statement is misleading, however, since he is part of a blind study in which some participants received actual medicine and some receive placebos. The respondent has no actual knowledge which group he is in.”
Pierson in his reply “denies the commission’s mischaracterizations of his representations about the improvements he has experienced and that have been documented in the study.” Another filing argues, “What is misleading is the Commission’s attempt to characterize as misleading (Pierson’s) factually true statement that his symptoms have improved during the drug study.”
Chief Justice Loretta Rush Wednesday appointed Robert C. Reiling as a hearing officer in the matter.