A former candidate for Durham County District Court judge who formerly hosted a WNCU show has been disbarred for "knowingly and intentionally" misappropriating $53,275 of her clients' money.
The N.C. State Bar issued the order in October after attorney Tracy Barley admitted to its findings—a pattern of refinancing loans for clients and then failing to pay off mortgages as instructed—and offered her resignation.
The Wake County General Court of Justice found that from April 2003 to March 2006, Barley deposited funds from at least 17 clients into her own account and delayed payment, in some cases for more than six years.
"Barley utilized funds held in trust for some clients to cover funds that she had misappropriated from other clients," the order states. "Barley utilized entrusted funds for her own personal benefit or for the benefit of third parties without authorization to do so from the beneficial owners of the funds."
She also did not maintain adequate records.
In one instance, after completing a refinancing for a client, Barley took $88,787 and deposited it into an attorney trust account. But instead of paying off the client's debt in December 2003, as instructed, Barley paid her client's monthly mortgage from 2004 until recently.
According to court documents, over 17 years, Barley had several liens against her totaling $349,028. She also declared bankruptcy in October 2002. Barley could not be reached by phone at her home for comment. The number at her office in downtown Durham has been disconnected.
Meanwhile, Barley was running for office and earning appointments to advisory boards. In 2006 she ran for a District 14 judgeship, on a platform that proclaimed she would be "decisive, fair and in touch with our community." The Indy endorsed her in the 2006 primary and general election. Incumbent Ann McKown won that race with 55 percent of the vote.
Barley's campaign ads also promoted her experience as a past president of the N.C. Central University School of Law Alumni Association, as president of the advisory board of Legal Aid of N.C.-Durham Office from 2004–2005 and as a commissioner with the N.C. Social Services Commission from 2002–2004.
For six years, Barley co-hosted Legal Eagles, an advice program on N.C. Central's radio station, WNCU, fielding calls and offering guidance on divorce, wills and contract law.
NCCU spokeswoman Cynthia Fobert declined to comment other than to say that Barley has not been on the air for two years.
"November 2008 was the end of that program," she said. "That's the extent of our involvement with her."
Around the time Barley left the airwaves, she received a reprimand for professional misconduct from the Grievance Committee of the N.C. State Bar. In that case, Barley neglected to file the appropriate paperwork to close a client's mother's estate and lied about it, according to the reprimand. Barley quit responding to the client's calls but failed to file a motion to withdraw as counsel.
She paid a $100 fine.
"The Grievance Committee trusts that you will heed this reprimand, that it will be remembered by you, that it will be beneficial to you, and that you will never again allow yourself to depart from adherence to the high ethical standard of the legal profession," committee Chairman James Fox wrote in the filing.