Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Detrimental Reliance

The Kentucky Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a family court judge for conduct that took place prior to his appointment to the bench.

The client was seeking a divorce and wished to remarry. While there were unresolved issues, her husband did not object.

The attorney sought a limited decree of divorce. His assistant erroneously advised him that the decree had been granted.

It had not; he did not check.

Ms. Thompson, in reliance on the statements by Webb’s legal assistant that the Limited Decree had been entered, married Kevin Brown on February 14, 2015. When Mr. Brown retired in 2016, he named Ms. Thompson as his designated account beneficiary and named her and her children as covered parties under his retiree health insurance. Webb continued to represent Ms. Thompson in the divorce case until July of 2016. Webb filed a motion to withdraw as counsel of record for Ms. Thompson on July 20, 2016, citing SCR 3.130(1.16)10 as basis for the termination and claiming that the attorney-client relationship between Webb and Ms. Thompson had deteriorated such that Webb believed he was ethically required to withdraw from representation. The court entered the order granting Webb’s motion to withdraw on August 11, 2016. Ms. Thompson retained new counsel and the divorce case continued.

In September of 2017, Ms. Thompson decided to seek child support from Mr. Thompson. An employee at the child support office told Ms. Thompson that she needed a copy of her divorce decree. When Ms. Thompson went to the courthouse to obtain one, she discovered no decree had ever been entered and that her second marriage was void because she was still married to Mr. Thompson. In April of 2018, Ms. Thompson filed the bar complaint that initiated the present disciplinary proceeding.  In October of 2018, an Administrative Hearing Officer determined that Mr. Brown must reimburse the Kentucky Retirement System’s health insurance trust a total of $12,161.12 the amount of overpayment of health insurance coverage for Ms. Thompson and her dependents. Mr. Brown was also unable to change his designated retirement beneficiary, and Ms. Thompson is the non-spouse beneficiary of Mr. Brown’s retirement account.


After reviewing the allegations, Webb’s previous disciplinary record, and the cases cited by the KBA, this Court concludes that the discipline proposed by Webb, and agreed to by the KBA, is appropriate.

(Mike Frisch)


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