Lawyers victimGetting out of bed is difficult for Dolan D. Dolan these days. It's been tough, struggling with depression.
watches as he
The Big Island woman says
the maximum 10-year term and
$295,000 in fines that Cusmano
faces 'isn't right'
By Debra Barayuga
Undergoing therapy after she survived a car crash in November 1997, the Puna resident is still putting her life together after her attorney stole a $25,000 settlement check issued by her insurance company and never told her.
Dolan, 56, flew here from the Big Island to watch the attorney, Mark Cusmano, plead guilty yesterday to stealing $185,000 from her and at least 14 other former clients, sometimes settling their lawsuits without their knowledge and forging their signatures on settlement checks they never saw.
It wasn't until she was subpoenaed to appear before an Oahu grand jury in April that she learned that her insurance company had issued her a $25,000 check in January 1999.
Cusmano never gave her the check. And the signature on the check didn't belong to her.
He faces a maximum 10-year-prison term and a maximum $295,000 in fines when sentenced March 30. But Cusmano could get probation.
Ten years "isn't right," Dolan said. Not for what she and others have had to go through. Getting her $25,000 back won't compensate her for the suffering she's endured for three years.
Cusmano's attorney, Howard Luke, said he will seek probation.
Paid debts with stolen moneyThere's no dispute that former clients were hurt by Cusmano's conduct, Luke said. But while there's no ethical defense for what he did, attorneys are human, too, he said. "They're fallible."
Cusmano had served his clients well since he began practicing law in 1993, until ending in 1998, Luke said, but problems with his practice and family took over. "He made a very bad decision," and is very remorseful, he said.
Cusmano used the money he stole to pay off debts and keep his law practice afloat. He did not use the money to maintain an extravagant lifestyle or feed a drug habit, Luke said. "Ultimately, he panicked and left."
In exchange for Cusmano pleading guilty, the state has agreed not to seek extended or consecutive sentencing.
Cusmano has agreed to pay restitution and write letters of apology to his victims.
The olive linen jacket Dolan bought to look presentable at yesterday's hearing hides the badly scarred left arm that was nearly severed when her truck rolled over it numerous times in a field of a'a lava.
She was rear-ended by a driver traveling 55 mph.
The other driver apparently had taken her eyes off the road to discipline her child, Dolan later learned.
Victim lost 'joy for living'Despite numerous operations that involved skin grafts and pins and a steel plate inserted into her elbow, Dolan still has no feeling in her forearm and doesn't have full range of motion.
She was a massage therapist for nine years before the accident and hasn't worked since.
Plastic surgery wasn't successful. She also suffered a concussion in the crash, but she has since regained most of her vocabulary and can speak clearly, although she still gets disoriented and has difficulty concentrating. She had double vision for months.
She no longer swims and bikes like she used to. She has low self-esteem and has trouble getting motivated. "I don't have the joy for living," she said.
She estimates her losses, including lost wages for the past three years, at about $140,000. "I'm totally devastated moneywise," she said. "I'm a mess."
Dolan was sued by her plastic surgeon and Cusmano, without her knowledge, had apparently told the doctor that Dolan was settling out of court. But Dolan said she had filed suit earlier and was ready to go to trial.
However, with the threat of a lawsuit hanging over her head, Dolan paid the doctor. She used her Visa card and exhausted $40,000 of her savings.
She learned from the surgeon's lawyer that Cusmano had fled the state and efforts were being made to get him back.
Dolan filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and learned she was just one of Cusmano's many victims.