On Thursday, August 24, 2023, the Supreme Court of Kentucky permanently disbarred attorney Joe Stewart Wheeler due to his involvement in misappropriation and theft.
The case is entitled “Joe Stewart Wheeler v. Kentucky Bar Association” with case no. 2023-SC-0214-KB.
Wheeler’s troubles arose after he was indicted on two counts of theft in Logan Circuit Court on March 25, 2022. On December 1, 2022, Wheeler entered an Alford plea to two reduced charges of theft by unlawful taking between $1,000-$10,000, still classified as felonies.
As part of his plea agreement, Wheeler admitted to taking funds from the trust account of his client Margie Gibbs and depositing them into his personal bank account without permission. He was sentenced to 5 years probation.
Prior to the criminal case resolution, the Inquiry Commission had opened an investigation into Wheeler’s conduct, recognizing probable cause that he violated ethics rules against committing a criminal act reflecting adversely on honesty and violating client trust.
The Kentucky Supreme Court issued an order permanently disbarring Wheeler from practicing law. In his motion, Wheeler admitted to violating ethics rules and requested resignation under terms of permanent disbarment.
The court’ required Wheeler to notify clients and courts of his inability to represent them further. He must also pay court costs.
Chief Justice VanMeter issued a concurring opinion stating theft of client funds while serving as a fiduciary merits the strictest sanction of permanent disbarment to maintain public confidence in the profession.
According to martindale.com, Mr. Wheeler attended the University of Louisville, graduating in 1979. Prior to his disbarment, he practiced in Russellville, Kentucky. He acquired his law license in Kentucky in 1979.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.