November 25, 2008
An Illinois hearing board has recommended a six-month suspension of an attorney for conflicts of interest in representing sellers in two real estate transactions where she had an undisclosed romantic relationship with the buyer:
At the same time the Respondent was representing Elsie Hamilton in the sale of Hamilton’s farm to Gale Griffith, the Respondent also had a personal, financial, and professional relationship with Griffith. The Respondent lived with and had a romantic relationship with Griffith for several years. In fact, the Respondent described Griffith as her "life partner." Also, since 2003 the Respondent and Griffith were co-owners, with four others, of a business named Crooked House. Crooked House purchased houses and then operated them as rental properties.
The board further found that the conflicts did not involve fraud or dishonesty:
We also find that the evidence did not prove that the Respondent acted with the intent to cheat or defraud her clients Elsie Hamilton or Howard Doy. We note that the Respondent was not charged with engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. The overall circumstances shown by the evidence, including the Respondent’s testimony and demeanor, indicate that the Respondent thought that, by arranging the sale of her clients’ real estate for the exact price they sought, she acted in full accord with her clients’ wishes and interests. It is clear from the evidence...that the Respondent acted with the intent to aid Gale Griffith financially by assisting Griffith to purchase the farms of the Respondent’s clients at a price very favorable to Griffith. Thus, although the Respondent had a clear conflict of interest and effectively put the interest of Griffith, her life partner, above the interest of her clients Elsie Hamilton and Howard Doy, the evidence does not prove that the Respondent intended to harm either Hamilton or Doy.
The attorney had no record of prior discipline. (Mike Frisch)
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