Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Fruits Of Unethical Behavior

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court indefinitely suspended an attorney who had caused an elderly client to transfer her assets into joint and survivorship accounts in both their names without informed consent, concealed estate proceeds after the client died, delayed the completion of estate proceedings and had improper ex parte communications with the probate judge. The lawyer had befriended the client when she was over 90 years old and suffering from ailments including signs of dementia and organic brain syndrome. "Unmarried and childless, [the client] possessed considerable wealth."

Although the client had asked him to draft a will for his benefit, the lawyer declined and "began transferring [her] assets, purportedly at her direction, into joint and survivorship accounts that they shared" to the tune of over a million dollars. When she died at age 99, he was appointed executor  but "took no action on behalf of her estate for over 16 months." He concealed evidence of what he had done in interrogatories and to the probate court. The court majority ordered indefinite suspension without restitution.

Three dissenting justices would impose permanent disbarment. A concurring justice would order restitution: Although there was a settlement that allowed the attorney to retain some proceeds, the concurring justice did "not believe the [attorney] should be permitted to profit from his unethical behavior..." (Mike Frisch)

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