April 7, 2011
Client Loves Attorney Like A Son But Complaint Leads To Reprimand
The New Jersey Supreme Court has imposed a reprimand for a prohibited business transaction with a client. The client and attorney had a close relationship for many years, "akin to that of a mother and a son." Although the complainant had filed a grievance against the attorney, she stated that "she still loved him..."
The attorney had previously represented the complainant in an accident case that settled without him charging any fee.
The misconduct took place during the attorney's divorce. The client (she still considered him her attorney) obtained a companion credit card for the attorney's use. She believed he would pay the charges. He testified that he did not consider her as his client but rather his "surrogate mother." He did not comply with the formalities required in a business relationship with a client and falsely assured her that he would make the account current.
The attorney later drafted a will and power of attorney for the client. He failed to disclose more than $41,000 in principal and interest on the companion card.
The client got dunned for the past balance due, retained another attorney and learned of the unpaid balance. She filed a grievance because of the inability to communicate about the problem.
The Disciplinary Review Board found that, even though there was no current representation at the time of the credit card arrangement, the client "had a reasonable expectation, based on their longstanding personal and professional relationship, that he would protect her interests. "
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