Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Justice in Aging (a 40+ year-old organization, until recently known as the National Senior Citizens Law Center) is "seeking a strategic, dynamic attorney" to join their health team in the Washington D.C. office. They are requesting applications by May 1, with a target start date of June 1.
- A J.D.
- At least 7 years of experience working for a consumer, legal, association, or other non-profit in a similar capacity
- Creative thinker with experience developing and implementing new advocacy projects to fill existing and emerging needs in underserved communities
- Capacity to manage multiple projects and people simultaneously
- Excellent interpersonal skills with demonstrated ability to lead, work as part of a team, and build external relationships
- Thorough understanding of both national and state legislative and regulatory processes
- Effective speaking, presentation, and writing skills
For more on the exciting opportunities in this position, see the full "job" posting on Justice in Aging's website.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
The Washington D.C. Bar Association has interesting CLE programs. The D.C. Bar is offering a session this week on Breaking the Silence: Depressing in the Practice of Law:
- Denise Perme, LICSW, Manager, D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program, moderator
- Katherine Bender, PhD, NCC, Programming Director, The Dave Nee Foundation
- Dan Lukasik, Managing Partner, Bernhardi & Lukasik, PLLC
- Col. Brett Schneider, MD, Director of Behavioral Health Services, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
The session is on Friday, April 17 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Details about registration and location here.
It seems to me that I'm seeing more programming that explores mental health in the practice of law and that seems like a pro-active, healthy trend.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Here is a recent ruling (February 2015), based on a fact pattern that many elder law attorneys will appreciate as both familiar and challenging.
In Runge v. Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of North Dakota reversed a disciplinary board "admonishment" of an attorney for "violating" the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.14. North Dakota's Rule 1.14, addressing representation of a "client with limited capacity," is similar to the ABA Model Rule 1.14 on clients with "diminished capacity."
At issue in the disciplinary proceeding was the lawyer's representation of a 79-year-old man who was residing in a "Care Center." The man wished to leave the nursing home, against "medical advice" and, apparently also in opposition to his daughter's apparent belief about what was best for him. The man had, before experiencing a heart attack, named his daughter as an agent under a durable POA.
By the time the attorney met with the man, the man had been living in the care center for several months. After meeting with the older man (and a female friend of the man), at the man's request the attorney prepared a revocation of the POA. The lawyer explained to the care center that absent someone holding a guardianship or custodianship for the man, and as long as the lawyer was persuaded his client had sufficient capacity, the revocation of the POA was effective and neither the center nor the daughter had grounds to prevent him from leaving.
Unhappy with this outcome, the daughter filed a Disciplinary Board complaint against the attorney, asserting the lawyer had acted improperly by failing to consult with her as her father's named agent, and taking the position her father's "incapacity" for purposes of an earlier "emergency care" statement was conclusive of his incapacity. The Court, however, observed:
"Here no guardianship or conservatorship existed that withdrew Franz's authority to act for himself. Rather, Franz shared his authority to act and he remained free to withdraw the authority conferred under that power of attorney, which, in any event, precluded anyone from making his medical decisions. This record reflects [Lawyer]Runge talked with Franz by telephone and in person to ascertain his wishes before Franz revoked the power of attorney. Runge's recitation of his conversations with Franz does not clearly and convincingly establish Franz was incapacitated in April 2013. This record does not reflect any subsequent attempt to obtain a court-ordered guardianship or conservatorship for Franz, which belies any suggestion that he was incapacitated in April 2013."
Therefore, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the daughter's Disciplinary Board complaint.
Significantly, the Court observes that although the lawyer "could" have contacted the daughter before executing the revocation of the POA, the provisions of Rule 1.14 did not "require" him to do so.
Lots of potential lessons here. A key to the outcome seems to be the lawyer's persuasive testimony, showing the care he took in making the decision to represent the man and to prepare the revocation. As the court observed, "[The lawyer's] assessment of [the man's] capacity was within the range of a lawyer's exercise of professional judgment." This case is another demonstration that lawyers hold a lot of power -- and responsibility -- in matters involving client capacity.
Many thanks to Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law for sending this decision our way.
April 2, 2015 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 27, 2015
As reported in the ABA Journal, "A New Jersey lawyer has been sentenced for 10 years in prison for her part in a scheme to steal $3.8 million from 16 elderly victims:"
Prosecutors say the group took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one under false pretenses. They then added their names to the victims’ bank accounts and transferred the victims’ funds into accounts they controlled. As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Lieberman has agreed to pay $3 million in restitution and testify against her co-defendants.
Here are more details. And here. And here. And here. And according to one news source, the attorney actually served on the New Jersey Supreme Court's Ethics Committee while already engaged in misusing client funds. Hat tip to retired New York Attorney Karen Miller, now living in Florida, for sharing a link to the ABA Journal article on this sad set of facts.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Pennsylvania's New Pro Rep Rules Target Financial Accountability for Lawyers, Including Restrictions re Sales of "Investment Products"
New rules supplementing Pennsylvania's Rules for Professional Conduct, adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in late 2014, are intended to require greater accountability by lawyers for handling of client funds, including sums temporarily deposited in IOLTA accounts. The rules became effective on March 1, 2015. As we reported on this blog earlier, including here and here, the changes were an important response to disturbing instances of individual attorneys who stole client funds -- in the aggregate amounting to millions of dollars -- that they had purported to "invest" for the clients.
On March 25, I had the interesting task of serving as a moderator for a meeting hosted by the Elder Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association to explore the implications of the new rules. Panelists included attorneys Stephen K. Todd and David Fitzsimons who have each served on the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board. They were involved in either the drafting or implementation stages for the new rules. Also helping to set the stage were two additional panelists, practicing elder law and estate planning attorneys, Linda Anderson from the east side of Pennsylvania and John Payne from the west side of the state.
The audience included attorneys from a range of practice areas around the state, as well as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd. The dialogue following the panelists' opening remarks was robust, demonstrating support for the increased standards for record-keeping and safe-keeping of property, as well as enhanced powers for the Disciplinary Board to investigate suspected misconduct and demand accountability and disciplinary compliance.
Many of the comments and questions focused on a single new rule, reportedly the first in the nation, that addresses the role of lawyers with respect to "investment products," defined to include annuity contracts, life insurance contracts, commodities, investment funds, trust funds or securities.
The key provisions of new Rule 5.8 provide:
March 26, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Programs/CLEs, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
In advance of his appearance and in preparation for his focus on "Special Needs Planning," Stephen Spano, who is board certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) and whose firm concentrates its practice on elder law, estate planning and special needs planning, asked the students to watch two very interesting -- indeed inspiring -- Ted Talk videos.
Here is his first assignment -- and I look forward to seeing how he uses both videos with our students:
His second assigned video "homework" is from Aimee Mullins, who talks about "My 12 Pairs of Legs."
Friday, March 6, 2015
Pennsylvania Bar Association Program on New Rules of Professional Conduct & Disciplinary Enforcement
On Wednesday, March 25, 2015 (1:30 to 3:30 p.m.), the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA)'s Elder Law Section is hosting a panel session at the annual PBA Section/Committee Day to discuss important changes in the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct and the Disciplinary Enforcement Rules.
Several of the recent changes, including rules mandating greater oversight for trust accounts, timelier handling of complaints, and specific new prohibitions or restrictions on attorney involvement in marketing of "investment products," were a response, at least in part, to serious cases of attorney misconduct resulting in tragic financial losses for individuals. In some instances the clients were older persons who entrusted large retirement assets to the care of a small number of attorneys.
In planning the program, Elder Law Section Chair Jacqui Shafer commented that the program reflects the continuing commitment of the Bar and the Section to take affirmative steps to address and prevent misappropriation of funds from any client, including vulnerable seniors and their families.
Panelists include experienced private practitioners in elder law or estate planning practices and representatives of the Disciplinary Board and PBA's Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibilities Section. Several participants were members of the Pennsylvania's recent Supreme Court Elder Law Task Force.
Here is the link for more details on the program, including the link for required registration (free, including lunch). The deadline for on-line registration is March 20.
March 6, 2015 in Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Heidi Rai Stewart, an attorney who concentrates her practice in "estate planning, estate and trust administration, special needs planning, elder law and Orphan's Court matters," has an interesting article in the March-April issue of The Pennsylvania Lawyer.
In "A Hit Between the Eyes - The Danger of Treating Legal Practice as a Commodity," Ms. Stewart takes on the hot topic of nontraditional providers of legal documents or legal advice, including lower-cost sources such as LegalZoom's partnership with Sam's Club or Avvo Advisor, an "on-demand service providing legal advice at fixed rates."
Ms. Stewart makes several points, including:
- "A fill-in-the-blank document program simply cannot address the possible eventualities that a skilled attorney will bring to a client's attention. Although attorneys use forms, a skilled lawyer does not simply fill in blanks."
- "Commoditization of legal services and documents induces the mindset of the cheaper the better."
- "There has long been a perception, reflected oftentimes in negative humor, that attorneys are solely concerned with making money.... That perception must change.... [A]ttorneys must better communicate the value of the breadth of their knowledge and wisdom if they want to remain competitive in the marketplace...."
Ms. Stewart asks "Are companies that provide DIY legal documents engaging in the unauthorized practice of law in Pennsylvania?" She observes that such a claim has not yet been heard in Pennsylvania.
Ms. Stewart outlines several recent cases from other states. She concludes by encouraging lawyers to engage in introspection and to think deeply:
"Do we distinguish ourselves by rising to the occasion with our integrity, skills, knowledge and wisdom? Or do we just continue on the path already trod while the public continues to search for the cheapest way to deal with life's most important issues?"
The issue containing the article is currently available only to members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Worth tracking down the full article!
Monday, February 23, 2015
On Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the 7th Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys (PAELA), to give a presentation with Dr. Claire Flaherty, a Penn State Hershey Medical Center neuropsychologist with special expertise in frontal and temporal lobe impairments, on "Dementia Diagnosis and the Law."
Another speaker, Teepa Snow, an occupational therapist with long-experience in behavioral health, brain injury and dementia care, spoke on Sunday.
It was one of the rare times when I've been glad to be "snowed in" at a conference, as that kept me in place for both days of the presentations, rather than rushing home to work on some other task.
One of the topics that was discussed by attendees over the two days was the question of whether testimony by witnesses who observe "moments of lucidity" -- standing alone -- is proper support for a finding of "legal capacity." Context is important, of course, as both common law and statutory law increasingly recognize that capacity should be evaluated in terms of specific transactions.
My own takeaway from the health care experts was the need for some measure of caution in this regard. With many forms of dementia, especially at the early stages, unrecognized impairment of judgment may precede recognized impairment of memory. In other words, as I understand it, we may spend too much time being impressed by a client's ability to remember who is the president or the names of their children, and too little time asking more probing questions. Deeper inquiry may reveal or ameliorate concerns about judgment, including an individual's current abilities to make decisions, make reasonable, rational connections in formulating or following a plan, and related skills such as empathy or self-awareness.
Along this same line, it is a good time to remind readers that there are three useful handbooks on "Assessment of Older Adults With Diminished Capacity," one directed to lawyers, one to psychologists, and one for judges, that were created by experienced professionals working as a team on behalf of the American Bar Association and the American Psychological Association (APA). Individual copies can be downloaded without cost from the APA website.
Monday, February 16, 2015
ABA's Litigation magazine's Winter 2015 issue has an interesting theme -- "regrets" -- and I encourage all attorneys and law professors to track it down. Lots of gems here, offering plenty of stimulus for conversation.
Famed trial attorney Gerry Spence starts off one of the articles in this way:
"Like most old men looking back, I tend to forget the major regrets in my life. Mine may been becoming a trial lawyer in the first place. I learned how to try case by failing. I regret I wasn't taught in law school the first rudimentary principles of a jury trial. But how could that happen when most of the professors had never been in a courtroom?....
"In short, the justice system is broken.... I've labored in the system for over 60 years, and I regret, not winning, but in contributing to the myth that there's liberty and justice for all. I regret aiding and abetting the 'appearance of justice' that continues to defraud most Americans who have never awakened one day to find themselves crunched in the system...."
Abe Krash, with a 50 year career at D.C.'s Arnold & Porter law firm, shares his thoughts, thoughts that are on the whole, more positive that Spence's, but include:
"The bloom on the Washington legal rose began to fade somewhat in the mid-1980s during the era of deregulation. At about the same time, the legal profession began to change in significant ways. I applaud a number of the changes... such as the widening opportunities afforded to women and minorities. But like many others of my generation, I regret some of the changes, including the shift among large law firms from a partnership mode to a corporate mode."
Elder Law, which as a specialization is still relatively young, is now "old enough" to see a first generation of long-time practitioners contemplating their own retirements. I wonder how the theme of "regrets" might play out for these individuals?
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Monday, February 9, 2015
Recently Elder Law Attorney Bob Anderson from Marquette, Michigan, spoke to law students at Dickinson Law on the theme of "planning" and his presentation stressed the importance of understanding long-term care insurance or, because our world loves acronyms, "LTCI."
Bob used his thirty years of experience in counseling families to outline key points, and to explain factors that have impacted the LTCI industry. I asked the students to summarize what they found to be most interesting and important. Their "takeaway" highlights included:
- LTCI is an important consideration, part of the same evaluation for insuring against "unacceptable" losses, that should take place in deciding whether to insure against home fires or early death, recognizing that such events are "unlikely" to happen, but can happen to a significant percentage of the population;
- LTCI has a "cost of waiting," both in terms of the potential to become "uninsurable" because of a disqualifying medical condition arising, and because of the cost increase in first time premiums as you get closer to the age of potential need; and
- The cost of LTCI has several important variables, which lawyers can help families understand when advising about planning options, including the term of coverage (e.g., 1, 3 or 5 years), the "elimination" period, the interaction with Medicare's 100 day maximum for post-acute care, and the need to consider inflation protection for the daily benefit.
Bob also talked about "hybrid" insurance products, combining life insurance with an LTCI option. I think it is safe to say that regardless of their goals after graduation, all of the law students came away with an appreciation for the need to understand all available options, including LTCI, in planning or advising for post-retirement needs.
One of our students, who is thinking about general practice, said that he can see clients asking questions about LTCI. Bob was excellent at reminding all of us that effective elder law and estate planning attorneys address more than just what happens after death.
Bob, whose diverse interests include cross-country ski racing and hockey, also provided a bit of surprise during his visit when he began speaking Russian -- and, I think, Ukrainian -- with our Russian and Ukrainian Law expert, Bill Butler.
We especially appreciate Pennsylvania elder law attorney Amos Goodall and the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) for their roles in making this interactive program possible; the recording will be available to practitioners in the future through NELF's educational arm. Amos also addressed our students, adding important Pennsylvania specifics to the discussion.
In a timely coincidence, AARP has a newly published Money Column, on "Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?"
Friday, February 6, 2015
The Washington D.C. Bar has a feature article on elder abuse in February issue of its Washington Lawyer. It begins with a comparison of Brooke Astor's history to a "quiet" case of exploitation in the District:
"The issue of elder abuse made front-page news in 2009 when famed philanthropist Brooke Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted on 14 of 16 counts for financially exploiting his mother, stealing millions of dollars from her. A few years earlier in the District of Columbia, a similar case played out on a much smaller scale and away from the media glare.
D.C. resident Hattie Mae Goode was a housekeeper who, along with her husband, had scrimped and saved, bought a house (in which she took great pride), and wanted to be independent in her elder years. Several years after her husband died, Goode was introduced to Reginald Rogers by a mutual friend. Rogers, a lawyer, soon became indispensable to Goode, taking her to doctor appointments, to the bank, and eventually obtaining power of attorney over her.
'She trusted him to take care of her and her financial affairs, which turned out to be a very bad idea. He just cleaned her out,' says Goode’s niece Alma Robinson, who is executive director of the California Lawyers for the Arts. 'It was such a horrible story. This widow by herself with nobody looking after her, and then he convinces her that her family is trying to take advantage of her,' Robinson says. Cases such as Goode’s and Astor’s are all too common, say experts, yet the issue of elder abuse often goes unnoticed."
While much of the article sounds familiar, in terms of the recitation of predicted numbers of victims and the sad facts uncovered in actual investigations, the article also points to an interesting "new project" launched in October, the "District's Collaborative Training and Response to Older Victims," or DC TROV. For more on this new team approach, read "Breaking the Silence on Elder Abuse," by Kathryn Alfisi.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, a long-term care psychologist, writing for professionals in long-term care settings, offers wise advice that is relevant for any professional, about the importance of empathy and validation in addressing client concerns. She begins:
"As a long-term care psychologist, one of my main tasks is to sit down and talk in-depth with residents on a regular basis. I've basically conducted 20 years of focus groups. The single most common comment I've heard from residents over the years: 'I never thought I would end up in a place like this.'
While it's probably not the case for people who entered swanky continuing care retirement communities of their own accord well in advance of a health crisis, many residents feel like it's a personal failure to be in long-term care. They think if they'd done something different, or earned more money, or if they'd had children, or had a better relationship with their children, or if they had better children, or something, then they wouldn't have 'ended up' in a long-term care home."
For her specific advice, read "Addressing Residents' Deepest Fears," from McKnight's Long-term Care News.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The Importance of Checks & Balances in Law Firm Management, Including Handling Of Elder Client Funds
A news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Western Virginia provides an important reminder of the importance for every lawyer of having a system of checks and balances for law office management, to prevent any single employee from having unsupervised access or exclusive control over client trust funds. On December 15, 2014, a 34-year-old legal assistant at a law firm in Virginia was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for stealing more than $183k from an elderly client of the law firm. The lawyer who employed that assistant had been named by the county to serve as the conservator for the elderly woman who became the victim. According to the news release, the attorney "allowed [the legal assistant] to access the elderly woman's bank accounts,...but [the assistant] did not have signature authority on the accounts."
According to the news release, the employer "to date... has repaid $104,990.15." One suspects the law firm (or, its insurer) will have to pay the whole tab, even though the sentencing order imposes an obligation of restitution for the full sum on the legal assistant.
Friday, January 23, 2015
As outlined in the Bar Counsel column of the January issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, on January 1, 2015, lawyers became mandated reporters of suspected elder abuse, including physical abuse, neglect, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and financial exploitation. Deputy General Counsel Amber Hollister for the Oregon State Bar explains:
"Lawyers across Oregon are talking about elder abuse reporting. On Jan. 1, 2015, legislation took effect making all Oregon lawyers mandatory reporters of elder abuse. HB 2205 (2013). As with any new law, there are still many questions about how the new requirements will apply and impact lawyers' day-to-day practice....
The new reporting requirement was enacted at the recommendation of the Oregon Elder Abuse Prevention Work Group, which was tasked with studying how to better protect older Oregonians. As state Rep. Val Hoyle notes, 'for four years, the work group has focused on protecting some of Oregon's most vulnerable citizens. Integrating lawyers into Oregon's elder abuse safety net as mandatory reporters will provide our state with 19,000 additional advocates.'"
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Thinking More Deeply About Treating Nonlawyers Who Offer Medicaid and Estate Planning as Engaging in UPL
Earlier this week, we reported on the Florida Supreme Court's recent Advisory Opinion regarding activities by nonlawyers in "Medicaid Planning" that will be treated as Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL).
That piece triggered several discussions with colleagues, and thus we have more information to share.
Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode, working with Lucy Buford Ricca, the Executive Director of Stanford's Center on the Legal Profession, has a relatively new article in Fordham Law Review's annual colloquium issue that deepens Rhodes' long-standing concerns about the potential impact of treating certain "nonlawyer" conduct as sanctionable under state UPL rules. In "Protecting the Professor or the Public? Rethinking Unauthorized-Practice Enforcement," Professor Rhode begins with the history behind her earliest examination of the utility of "do it yourself kits" in areas of underserved legal needs, such as divorce. In her most recent Fordham piece, she also builds upon her 1981 survey of UPL enforcement procedures across the 50 states, by making a close examination of over 100 reported UPL decisions issued in the last decade. Rhode and Ricca conclude that UPL enforcement needs to be more consumer-oriented and less driven by narrow interests of lawyers in protection of specialized practice. They advocate that a "more consumer-oriented approach would also vest enforcement authority in a more disinterested body than the organized bar." Their article is a must read for any Bar group considering UPL issues, including those arising in the elder law or estate planning context.
Along that same line, the American Bar Association is hosting its second "UPL School" in Chicago on April 17-18. The purpose is to provide "a central forum for volunteer members of state and local bar UPL committees and commissions, and those charged with the prevention and prosecution of UPL violations to discuss current UPL challenges." (The first such "ABA UPL School" was held in 2013, focusing on several areas including immigration, "notario" fraud, and mortgage relief or loan modification vendors.)
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Following extensive hearings and related proceedings, including revision of an earlier proposed advisory opinion by the Florida Bar's Standing Committee, the Florida Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion on January 15, 2015, addressing certain Medicaid planning activities, concluding that when performed by nonlawyers, they constitute the "unlicensed practice of law" (UPL), thereby leading to potential sanctions.
The ruling focuses on actions by nonlawyers who assist with one or more of the following activities leading up to an application for Medicaid: (1) drafting of personal service contracts, (2) preparation and execution of Qualified Income Trusts; or (3) rendering legal advice on implementation of Florida law to obtain Medicaid benefits. The Court expressly distinguished the "preparation of the application for Medicaid benefits" as being outside of its opinion, pointing to federal law as authorizing nonlawyer assistance in the application process.
The Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar was the petitioner seeking the advisory ruling.
In the detailed conclusion, the "harm and potential harm" from "unregulated" nonlawyers selling trust packages was outlined:
Monday, January 12, 2015
We have written often recently (see here and here) about problems with Powers of Attorney (POAs), and a pending case in Minnesota appears at first to be another sad tale of an agent's alleged self-dealing. The Minnesota Court of Appeals set up the fact pattern as follows:
"The attorney is asked to draft a power of attorney for his elderly client. The document is drafted by a secretary. The lawyer never meets the client. Neither the lawyer nor the secretary ever discusses the ramifications of signing the document with the client. The document allows the attorney-in-fact to transfer all of the client's assets to himself. Days after the [elderly uncle] signs the document, that is precisely what happens."
The nephew used the POA to drain the uncle's accounts of more than $227,000.
Was the nephew liable for conversion? By the time that question was answered by the courts in the affirmative, the nephew was in bankruptcy -- and the money was apparently gone.
The uncle's estate looked for deeper pockets, and focused on the law firm that provided the broadly worded POA "form." The Minnesota Court of Appeal's split decision -- focusing on whether summary judgment for the defendant law firm was proper -- outlines several points that should be considered by any law firm that has drafted a POA, including whether such "forms" should ever be provided to individuals without accompanying legal advice.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
With the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting in our rear-view mirror, we can begin thinking about programming for January 6-9, 2016 in New York City! Whew! No rest... no rest....
The new officers for the Aging and the Law Section include Chair-Elect Nina Kohn, Syracuse Law, Secretary Roberta Flowers, Stetson Law, and Treasurer Jack Sahl, University of Akron Law. Mark Bauer, Stetson, as outgoing chair will continue on the executive committee. If other law professors reading this blog would like to volunteer to be on the planning committee for January 2016, that would be great too. Just email one of us to let us know!
The preliminary plans are to work on a joint program with a professional responsibility focus, looking at emerging potential roles for attorneys to protect older adults from abuse or neglect, including consideration of whether attorneys are -- or should be -- "mandated" reporters of suspected abuse of adults. A mandatory reporting obligation, already a fact of life for some professionals, including social workers in certain contexts and attorneys in some states, raises important questions of client identity, autonomy, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest, just to name a few concerns. Let us know if you have a work in progress -- or additional thoughts -- along this line.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
On December 23, 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a detailed opinion explaining the disbarment of Attorney Michael C. Hodes, in proceedings initiated by the state's Attorney Grievance Commission. Hodes, an attorney with 39 years of experience, reportedly held himself out as concentrating his practice in estate planning and elder law. At the core of the charges against Hodes was "self-dealing," by improperly using money from a specific decedent's account and over $270,00 from a related trust account for his own needs. He attempted to avoid disbarment, arguing that the sums should be characterized as a loan, that he had made restitution and his alleged misconduct was not in his role as an "attorney."
The Court concluded, however, that an attorney can be disciplined for violations of Rules of Professional Conduct, including conflict of interest, arising from conduct as an agent and trustee for an irrevocable trust created from assets from a decedent's estate, even if the attorney had been acting in a personal or non-legal capacity.
Hodes argued as mitigation that he had an established reputation as a trustworthy and knowledgeable attorney, with no prior history of disciplinary sanctions, and pointed to his roles as an adjunct professor at two area law schools and his role as a regular commentator on "elder law" for the radio. The court was unpersuaded, observing, "Yet, with all of his knowledge and experience in the practice areas of elder law and estates and trusts, Respondent displayed a remarkable lack of insight into his professional responsibility as an attorney and fiduciary. He continued to insist that he had taken a 'loan' of $270,000.00 from the Trust in order to pay personal bills, as if this form of self-dealing was acceptable."
The Maryland Court of Appeals also rejected Hodes' argument that the sanction of disbarment was excessive, as compared to prior disciplinary cases. The Court noted that to the extent the cases could be cited as permitting leniency for intentional misconduct, they "are no longer part of our modern attorney discipline jurisprudence."
For more, see here (Baltimore Business Journal), describing Michael Hodes' future plans.