Thursday, April 18, 2013

Suspension For Egregious Disloyalty To Elderly Client

The New Jersey Supreme Court accepted the recommeendation of its Disciplinary Review Board and imposed a three-year suspension of an attorney "for his egregious misconduct vis-a-vis his client, an elderly and sickly widow, who was nearly ninety years old and of questionable competence."

The Office of Attorney Ethics had sought a three-month suspension. The attorney sought a reprimand.

The attorney had arranged for the sale of the widow's home to a close friend and client on terms that sold the $1.3 million home for $50,000 in cash at closing. He also drafted a will for the widow that made him sole executor of her estate and left the residuary estate to the same friend that scored the client's home on the cheap. The will revoked the client's earlier will that had left the bulk of her estate to charity.

Apparently, the attorney's friend was the charity designated by the will he drew for the client.

According to the DRB: 

Standing alone, these two situations represent egregious acts of disloyalty. However, when these acts are considered in context, respondent's behavior shocks one's conscience.

At the time respondent undertook the representation of [the widow], she was ninety years old, in very poor health, and of questionable competence. Indeed, when [his friend] asked respondent to represent [the widow], he told respondent that "they" wanted to close quickly because of her age and medical condition. Rather than raise respondent's eyebrows, [his friend's] entreaty propelled him forward.

Respondent, who should have had the upmost concern for his client, had none...

The attorney had no prior discipline.

The DRB harshly criticized counsel's arguments on behalf of the attorney. The claim that "the purported victim" suffered no harm was "stunning." Further, counsel made the "astonishing claim" that the attorney was "exonerated after a lengthy criminal trial. This is not true. The judge declared a mistrial in that matter and the prosecutor elected not to proceed."

The suspension is UFO - until further court order. Still, this one seems to cry out for disbarment. One DRB member voted to disbar.  (Mike Frisch)

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