Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Place Like Home

An Illinois Hearing Board has recommended a one year suspension of an attorney for her dealings with her stepfather after the death of her mother. The attorney had a 50% interest in the marital residence subject to the life estate of the stepfather. She had a friend and mentor draft documents that gave her the remaining interest (which the stepfather had previously willed to his own relatives) as well as power of attorney. The attorney claimed she had acted in the stepfather's interests to help secure public assistance.

The hearing board did not fully accept the motivation agruments of either side:

Respondent testified that her purpose in taking ownership of Dancik’s half of the Woodridge property and using his assets in connection with the property was to benefit Dancik in his application for public aid, and not to feather her own nest. She explained that Dancik had no health insurance and therefore he needed to seek public aid to cover his medical costs. In order to ensure his eligibility, Respondent spent down his assets and transferred ownership of the Woodridge property to herself. She believed that depriving Dancik of ownership of his property would be, in the end, the best way to keep him in the house.

The Administrator, on the other hand, attached the most sinister of motives to Respondent’s actions, arguing that Respondent’s long history of frustrations with Dancik’s drinking and her resentment of the manner in which he treated her mother led to hatred, revenge and a plot to systematically strip Dancik of all of his financial assets so she could recoup what she believed was rightfully hers. The Administrator theorized that Respondent’s goal was to take ownership of Dancik’s property and then have him confined to a long-term care facility at the expense of taxpayers. We reject this motive.

Having reviewed the evidence with respect to Respondent’s and Dancik’s relationship, we do not believe the Administrator proved that Respondent’s actions stemmed from any deep-seated vengeance. Respondent testified that after her mother’s death she and Dancik visited often, spent holidays together, and she and her husband helped Dancik maintain his household. Although Dancik’s memory was poor on many events, he did acknowledge that he probably spent holidays with Respondent and that she visited him at his house

However, although we were not convinced that Respondent was acting out of bitterness or malice toward Dancik, neither do we believe that she was acting purely for Dancik’s benefit. If Respondent were merely attempting to ensure Dancik’s eligibility for public aid, as she claimed, his interest in the Woodridge property could have been transferred to anyone, with the most likely candidates being his own blood relatives. Instead, Respondent was the beneficiary of all of the transactions and ultimately managed to become the owner of a piece of property unencumbered by any mortgage. Further, Respondent’s claim that she was trying to find a way to keep Dancik in the house was contradicted by [Dancik's sister's] testimony that Respondent told her in the summer of 2001 that she could dislodge Dancik from the Woodridge property at any time. Further, Respondent sought no guidance from any other attorney or family member in avoiding situations where her interests clearly conflicted with Mr. Dancik’s.

The impropriety of taking someone’s property without compensation, and then using that person’s funds to maintain the property and pay off the mortgage, should have been obvious to Respondent. In short, she took ownership of the Woodridge property while Dancik was hospitalized, and thereafter acted under the guise of trying to assist him.

The stepfather is alive and testified at the hearing. The attorney also made a false statement to secure public assistance for the stepfather. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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