Monday, May 18, 2009

Abuse Of Vulnerable Clients

A recently filed hearing officer report and recommendation from Arizona tells a truly horrifying tale of abuse of two vulnerable clients by an attorney. In one matter, the lawyer recruited another lawyer to do the real work while he billed for work not discernible to the client or co-counsel. He then deposited the settlement proceeds that had been secured by the other lawyer's efforts and took a contingency fee from the proceeds without notice to or consent of the client.

The hearing officer summarizes the findings:

Mr. Sikora [a client] was terminally ill from the outset of Respondent's representation. On the day Mr. Sikora died, Respondent shamelessly urged Mrs. Sikora to continue on with a case that she had concerns about, and to continue to pay fees she could not afford, to avoid disrespect to her husband's memory. While she endured extremely trying personal circumstances, Respondent continually urged her to borrow money from relatives and friends, to continue to pay Respondent's fees.

Mr. Derczo, an 83 year-old bipolar man, blind in one eye, with hearing problems, with no local family, was vulnerable as well. Respondent was in possession of documents from the Veteran's Administration that questioned Mr. Derczo's mental ability to handle his property and affairs. Despite Respondent's knowledge...he obtained Mr. Derczo's property by the power of attorney and will he prepared for Mr. Derczo and directed him to sign.

I must admit to a bit of surprise as to proposed sanction: six months and one day suspension, two years probation if reinstated, and restitution to Mrs. Sikora of amounts in excess of $200,000 in legal fees. Even though this sanction would trigger a fitness hearing prior to reinstatement, this kind of client abuse should be condemned in the strongest possible manner. (Mike Frisch)

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