Monday, November 8, 2010
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed a five-year suspension (as recommended by its Disciplinary Board) for an array of ethical violations in the representation of an elderly client.
The attorney had a friend who rented office space from him prepare a will and related documents under which he became the client's residual beneficiary, with power of attorney, and made him the client's joint-account owner with rights of susvivorship to 90% of her assets.
The board found that the attorney engaged in a prohibited business transaction with the client that was not saved by having his friend involved:
Merely because [the friend] was involved in the actual preparation of the new will does not insulate Respondent from a finding that he engaged in unethical conduct. [The friend] was not truly independent counsel.
Notably, the friend never met with the client prior to preparing the new will as per the attorney's instructions:
Shockingly, [the friend] never spoke to [the client] prior to preparing the will.
The Hearing Committee had rejected the attorney's testimony as incredible and had proposed a three-year suspension. Disciplinary Counsel supported the three-year suspension. the attorney suggested dismissal or public censure. The board went with five years despite the absence of a prior discipinary record:
Respondent saw an opportunity and took advantage of his elderly client. He has refused to admit any wrongdoing or show remorse, and seems to have little recognition of the implications of his actions. Even though Respomdent has practiced law since 1978 and has an unblemished record, he is unfit to practice law.