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Handling of Client Money by Public Defender

Adopted: April 18, 1986

Opinion rules that money belonging to an incarcerated client may be handled by the Public Defender as a favor and must be deposited into a trust account.


Attorney A works in the office of a Public Defender in one of the Judicial Districts in North Carolina. The Public Defender's office does not maintain bank accounts or trust accounts of any kind. From time to time, clients in jail request that lawyers in the Public Defender's Office "do them a favor" such as getting a check cashed, sending a money order, or cashing a money order. Attorney A is sometimes asked by a client in jail to cash a check payable to and endorsed by the client and return the proceeds to the client. Attorney A is sometimes asked also by a client in jail to take a sum of money provided by the client to purchase a money order payable to a relative of the client. Attorney A may also be asked by a client in jail to have a relative or friend of the client send a money order payable to the attorney and then to pay the proceeds of the money order to the client.

May Attorney A perform any of these services for a client in jail? If so, what accounting procedures are necessary? Would a trust account be required?


Nothing in the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits an attorney from performing a favor for his clients such as cashing a money order, purchasing a money order, or cashing a check for him. Rule 10.1(c) requires an attorney to deposit all money or funds received from a client or from a third party to be delivered to a client into a trust account and then make all disbursements as appropriate, from that trust account.

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