Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brownie's Will

 An Illinois hearing board has recommended a censure of an 81 year old attorney who wrote a series of wills for a client that gave, among other things, a round antique occasional table to the attorney 's wife. Over time, the bequests came to include a percentage of the client's estate.

The attorney had practiced law since 1954 without any prior discipline.

The representation involved a client who is referred to as "Brownie." The relationship between Brownie and the attorney is described as follows:

The Respondent first met Charles Ellsworth Brown in the early 1940s, when the Respondent was in grade school. Brown, who most people refer to as "Brownie," is 13 years older than the Respondent, and lived in Beeson, a town about 12 miles from Lincoln [Illinois]. Brownie was a good baseball player, and started to pursue a professional baseball career. Brownie ultimately became a baseball scout for the Chicago White Sox and then for the Minnesota Twins. Brownie received two World Series rings from the Twins. Brownie also worked for the State of Illinois for 8 to 10 years in the 1960s. Brownie was active in politics, but never held any elected office other than precinct committeeman. The Respondent was also active in politics, and frequently was at meetings, lunches, and dinners with Brownie.  Brownie referred some clients to the Respondent.  The Respondent described Brownie as a "social acquaintance."

In the early 1980s, the Respondent did legal work for Brownie’s mother. About the time Brownie’s mother died, in 1986, the Respondent started doing legal work for Brownie. For example, the Respondent did tax work for Brownie throughout the remainder of Brownie’s life.

The attorney described the circumstances of Brownie's final will and the ensuing bar complaint:

The final will the Respondent prepared for Brownie was in 2007. Brownie again came to the Respondent’s office with handwritten changes on his previous will.  The 2007 will contained the same bequests to the Respondent’s wife as in the 2005 will. Specifically, the Respondent’s wife was to receive the table, woodworking, shop tools, and 15% of the residual estate.  The Respondent said he suggested to Brownie that he change the gifts to Respondent’s wife, but Brownie refused to do so and said "he didn’t know anybody that had treated him better than myself and my wife."  The Respondent also told Brownie that he should go to another attorney, but Brownie refused. The Respondent then prepared the 2007 will, and Brownie executed it.  At the time he prepared the 2007 will, the Respondent believed that Brownie’s estate was worth "around" $500,000 and that 15% of the estate would be an amount over $75,000.

The Respondent further testified that during the period of time he prepared the wills for Brownie, Brownie would often stop by the Respondent’s home and his office to visit.  During the last year or so of his life, Brownie obtained the services of a caregiver, who took care of his home and drove him places.  Brownie died on January 21, 2009, and the Respondent said he was "competent right up to the day he died."

Probate proceedings for Brownie’s estate were initiated on February 4, 2009.  The Respondent was, initially, both the executor and the attorney for the estate. The value of the estate was about 1.6 million dollars. The Respondent said he had no idea that the value of the estate would be so large. There had been no will contest filed.  The Respondent said that an auctioneer in Logan County offered to purchase the "round table with four chairs" for $100, and the tools left on Brownie’s premises at the time of his death sold for less than $30.

A cousin of Brownie filed a charge against the Respondent with the ARDC. Thereafter, on May 6, 2009, the Respondent’s wife filed a disclaimer of every bequest to her in Brownie’s will.

Brownie and his wife had no children. The hearing board found no evidence of undue influence and that the evidence established Brownie's competence up until his death. One of the witneses who testified for the attorney was a United States District Judge who met Brownie when the judge played baseball at Illinois State University. They became close and attended games together. The judge testified that Brownie had a high regard for the attorney.

(Mike Frisch)


Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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