March 5, 2010
The West Virginia Supreme Court imposed a six-month suspension followed by probation for one year in a matter where an attorney drafted a will that named him as executor of the estate. After the client die, the attorney paid himself $11.000 out of estate assets. A beneficiary of the estate retained counsel, secured his removal and filed a bar complaint. The court concluded:
[the attorney's] misconduct violated a duty owed to a client, to the public, to the legal system, and to the profession. [He] paid himself an advance fee that he would have been entitled to if, in fact, he had done any work to support the fee. While he argues he performed sufficient work for the fee, the record does not support this assertion. Significantly, when ordered by both the Harrison County Commission and the Circuit Court of Harrison County to do certain things and pay certain monies, his delays in complying with those orders caused the estate and its beneficiaries to incur even greater expenses. Therefore, we will not disturb the finding made by the HPS.
Second, the HPS found that [his] misconduct was not intentional, but that it was gross negligence. It was acknowledged that [he] did not have much experience in performing estate work. While lack of experience may account for some of the misconduct, it does not account for [his] dilatoriness and failure to comply with tribunal orders in an attempt to make amends for his transgressions. Therefore, we agree with the HPS that his conduct was grossly negligent.
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