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Robert Telles may have misappropriated client funds, high court says

Updated October 19, 2022 - 5:36 pm

Former Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles has been temporarily suspended from practicing law, according to a Nevada Supreme Court order that alleges he may have misappropriated client funds this year.

“Telles has been charged with murder and appears to have transferred significant funds from his trust account in 2022, after he left private practice and assumed the job of public administrator,” according to the order, which was filed Wednesday.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, Telles withdrew more than $195,000 from an account that is meant to hold client money, said Dan Hooge, general counsel for the State Bar of Nevada.

“We don’t know where it went exactly,” Hooge said.

Telles, 45, is accused of killing Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, who had reported on Telles and his role as an elected official. Telles has been a member of the State Bar of Nevada since 2015, according to the organization’s website, and was elected public administrator in 2018.

“We conclude that the documentation before us demonstrates that Telles poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public based on the murder charge and recent trust account transfers suggesting potential mishandling or misappropriation of client funds,” the Supreme Court order states.

Background in probate law

Before he was elected, Telles operated Accolade Law, a small firm focused on probate and estate planning. As public administrator, Telles was in charge of administering estates and securing the property of a dead person while family or an executor was located, according to Clark County.

A district judge removed Telles from his elected position, which pays about $120,000 a year, earlier this month, despite his attorney’s argument that the official could have done the job from behind bars.

The order signed Wednesday temporarily suspends Telles from practicing law “pending the resolution of formal disciplinary proceedings against him.”

It also prohibits Telles from withdrawing funds from accounts “in any way relating to his practice of law,” except on written approval by the state bar.

The client account flagged by the state bar is known as an “Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account,” or an IOLTA account, Hooge said.

In probate law, lawyers often use IOLTA accounts to settle someone’s affairs before a case is closed, and the account is not supposed to hold personal funds. Once a case is closed, the attorney is supposed to disburse the money to the client, Hooge said.

When the withdrawal was made from Telles’ IOLTA account, he was still acting as the public administrator and should not have had private clients, Hooge said.

“There is no reason for (Telles) to safekeep funds in his IOLTA while serving as the Clark County Public Administrator,” according to a petition requesting that Telles be suspended.

The state bar filed the petition on Oct. 6.

Scope of violation unknown

However, investigators with the state bar found that Telles is listed as a participant or active attorney in seven District Court cases, eight civil cases in Las Vegas Justice Court and seven criminal cases in Las Vegas Justice Court, according to the petition.

The petition states that there had been no activity in the District Court cases since February 2021, and only one of the Justice Court cases had activity after June 2019.

In one of Telles’ criminal cases in Justice Court, court employees attempted to contact him multiple times after he was elected to determine who took over the case, but Telles did not reply, court records show. There was an active bench warrant for the defendant in the case as of Wednesday.

Hooge said Telles might have neglected to properly withdraw from old cases after he was elected. Meanwhile, the state bar is still investigating his accounts.

“We don’t know exactly the scope of the violation,” Hooge said.

On Tuesday, a judge denied a request from Telles’ public defenders to grant him a $100,000 bail, which defense attorneys said Telles believed his family would be able to help him pay.

Last week, a judge granted a motion from media outlets to release copies of a financial affidavit submitted by Telles before public defenders were appointed to represent him. Telles signed the affidavit on Sept. 20, indicating he did not “have the ability to pay for an attorney.”

Telles remained in the Clark County Detention Center without bail on Wednesday, and is scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 26.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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