Sentence Upheld for Tenn. Trial Lawyer Who Said Football Brain Injuries Led to Misdeeds

Sentence Upheld for Tenn. Trial Lawyer Who Said Football Brain Injuries Led to Misdeeds

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A Memphis plaintiffs’ attorney who made his living suing auto insurance carriers must spend two-and-a-half years behind bars for forging clients’ names on multiple settlement checks and depositing them into his own bank accounts, a federal appeals court has decided.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s sentencing of 30 months in prison and almost $150,000 in restitution for disbarred attorney George Skouteris Jr. In appealing his sentence, the lawyer argued that the fraud was largely the result of his days of playing college football, which left him with brain injuries and a diminished mental ability.

The three-judge panel for the appeals court did not buy it.

“Following his playing days, Skouteris moved from the stadium to the courtroom, practicing as a personal injury lawyer. His client service, however, was more in the form of a turnover than a touchdown,” Judge Chad Readler wrote in the Oct. 19 opinion.

Skouteris, 60, who played ball for Memphis State University in the 1980s, was indicted in 2018 on seven counts of bank fraud, according to news reports and court records. One case in particular, which began as long ago as 2006, helped lead to criminal investigations and Skouteris’ disbarment. Tiffany Pruett Williams told authorities that after a terrible auto accident that killed her fiance and left her in the hospital, Skouteris settled with the insurance company for $197,480.

But he never told his client. Instead, he forged her name to the check and deposited it in his account, the appeals court explained.

“Williams’s experience with Skouteris, regrettably, was not unique,” the court wrote. “Skouteris continued his practice of unauthorized settling, forging, and then depositing those monies in his Trust One Bank accounts, at the expense of other clients, too.”

Some clients filed complaints with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility. Others went to the prosecutor’s office in Memphis.

At trial, Skouteris’s side presented psychologists who testified that he suffered from depression, alcohol use, and seizures that began during his football career. Prosecutors’ psychologists said that, nonetheless, Skouteris was capable of complex thoughts and schemes. The jury in 2021 returned guilty verdicts on all counts. The federal district judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison, which was a downward departure from sentencing guidelines.

The appeals court judges said that it was a hard sell for Skouteris to claim on appeal that his sentence was too severe.

“Given that within-guidelines sentences are presumptively reasonable, Skouteris faces a nearly impossible task: showing that his sentence, which varied downward from the bottom of the calculated range by 16 months, was too long,” the court noted.

Skouteris’ attorney also argued that the restitution amount was too high, partly because a lien still existed against Williams.

“Even if that were the case, it would not mean that Skouteris owed any less money to Williams,” the appeals court reasoned. “Rather, the lienholder would have a right to any restitution Williams receives.”

A subrogation lien is not an “express lien” based on agreement, but instead is an equitable lien impressed on moneys on the ground that they ought to go to the insurer, the court explained, citing a 2006 federal court ruling.

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