Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Mess With The Opera

The Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a censure of an attorney who had prepared a series of testamentary documents for a client that included bequests to him. The attorney acknowledged the conduct but and indicated that he was not aware of the ethical prohibition. The hearing board rejected charges of overreaching in light of the longstanding relationship between the attorney and client and the client's expressed desire not to press the charge:

...we noted previously that counsel for the Administrator represented to us, and to Respondent, that she was not pursuing the charge of undue influence. Although Administrator’s counsel then observed in closing argument that the charge may not have been effectively rebutted by Respondent, we do not believe counsel’s statement resurrected that charge. Indeed, any other conclusion would place Respondent at an unfair advantage. If we were to consider the issue, however, we would find that Respondent’s evidence of a long friendship between his family and the [clients] was compelling, and that [the client's] bequest to Respondent was consistent with that relationship.

The attorney met the client and her husband in 1959 when they were neighbors in a condominium. The attorney attended law school at night at the urging of the client's husband and was licensed in 1968. He had no prior discipline.After the client's husband died in 1988, the attorney drafted nine amendments to a trust agreement which named him as successor trustee. The first amendment made a bequest to the Chicago Lyric Opera.  Beginning with the second amendment, there were bequests to the attorney as well as the Lyric Opera.

When the client died in March 2008, the Director of Planned Giving for the Opera (who is an attorney)  learned of the bequests to the drafting attorney. The director also learned that the estate had been depleted by medical expenses and that full payment of the bequest might not be forthcoming.  Although the bequest to the Opera was eventually paid in full, the director advised the ADRC of the conduct.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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