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Petioner for Estate Claims Lawyer Misappropriated Funds

Sometime in 1985, the respondent was retained by a woman to probate the Last Will and Testament of her deceased mother. The respondent accepted the retainer with full knowledge that the Will would have to be probated in the Court (for estate administration or will contest; estate litigation) in which he was employed. Thereafter, the respondent failed to apply to the Chief Administrator of the Courts for permission to engage in the private practice of law with respect to the subject estate, as follows:

In May of 1985, the respondent acting as the attorney for the estate, filed a probate petition and other relevant papers in the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, but, in doing so, concealed the fact that he was the attorney for the estate.

On 6 June 1985, the subject Will was admitted to probate and an administratrix was appointed. The respondent was paid the sum of $1,200 for his legal services.

Charge One: Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said that from 1966 to the present time, the respondent was employed at the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, and while so employed, practiced law in violation of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Courts. From 1966 to 1984, the respondent was a Law Assistant, and in 1984, the respondent became the Chief Law Assistant in that court, a position which he has held continuously to the present date.

Charge Two: that the respondent agreed to sell real estate belonging to the estate for a fee of 1% of the purchase price but not less than $750. Again the respondent failed to apply for any approval from the Chief Administrator of the Courts to engage in the private practice of law. At the closing held on 19 January 1989, the property was sold for a purchase price of $248,000, entitling the respondent to a fee of $2,480. Nassau County Probate Lawyers said that the respondent then improperly converted to his own use the sum of $3,520 by drawing himself a check payable in the amount of $6,000, without the knowledge or consent the administratrix, who had since moved to Seattle, Washington.

Charge Three: that the administratrix filed a complaint with the Grievance Committee, by letter dated 23 February 1989, alleging that the respondent had engaged in the larcenous taking of $3,520 from her mother’s estate. By letters dated 24 February and 27 February 1989, addressed to the complainant’s attorney, the respondent attempted to induce the administratrix into withdrawing her complaint. The letters were accompanied by checks totalling $3,520.

Four: that the respondent failed to apply for approval from the Chief Administrator of the Courts to permit him to engage in the private practice of law with regard to the estate, as follows:

Sometime in 1976, the respondent prepared a Will for another woman wherein he named himself as alternate executor. The woman died in May of 1982.

In October 1982, following the death of the aforesaid woman, the respondent presented the Will in the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, for probate. In probating the Will, the respondent listed himself as sole executor and requested that letters testamentary be issued to him. In filing the papers with the court, the respondent failed to disclose the fact that he was an attorney or that he had drafted the Will. The respondent received $8,000 from the estate for services rendered.

Thereafter, the respondent failed to file an affidavit with the court, setting forth the total commissions paid to him and the total attorney’s fees paid to him for services rendered on behalf of the estate. Further, the respondent failed to report as income on his 1982 Federal income tax return the $8,000 which he earned for services rendered to this estate.

Charge Five: that the respondent failed to apply for approval from the Chief Administrator of the Courts to permit him to engage in the private practice of law with regard to the estate, as follows:

Sometime in 1986, the respondent drafted a Will for another woman, in which he named himself as executor and as a beneficiary. In May 1988, the woman died.

Following the death of the aforesaid woman, the respondent, acting as a sole executor of the estate, submitted the Will to the Surrogate’s Court, Westchester County, for probate.
Charge Six: that the respondent failed to apply for the prior approval of the Chief Administrator of the Courts to permit him to engage in the private practice of law with regard to the estate, as follows:

Sometime in 1984, the respondent prepared a Will for another woman, in which he was named as sole executor. In 1986, the respondent drafted a Codicil which left unchanged his appointment as executor. In January 1988, the woman died.

Following the death of the aforesaid woman, the respondent submitted the Will and Codicil to the Surrogate’s Court, Kings County, for probate. The petition also alleged that in listing himself as sole executor and requesting letters to administer the estate, the respondent failed to file with the petition a statement disclosing that he was an attorney, that he was acting as counsel, and that he had drafted the Will and Codicil which he was offering for probate. The respondent received $46,000 from the estate for the legal services rendered.

Thereafter, the respondent failed to file an affidavit with the court, setting forth the total commissions paid to him and the total attorney’s fees paid to him for services rendered to the estate.

In sum, a petition setting forth six charges of professional misconduct against the respondent has been filed. The Special Referee sustained all six charges.

The petitioner moves to confirm the report of the Special Referee and the respondent has submitted a brief in answer thereto.

The Ruling:

After reviewing all the evidence adduced, the court finds that the Special Referee properly sustained all of the charges of professional misconduct alleged against the respondent.
Here, in determining an appropriate measure of discipline to impose, the court has taken into consideration the serious personal problems which the respondent was experiencing at the time, the character evidence submitted, and the absence of any prior disciplinary history. In view of the respondent’s misuse of his escrow account and his subsequent attempt to induce the withdrawal of a complaint against him, the court finds that the respondent is guilty of serious professional misconduct.

As a result, the respondent is disbarred and his name is stricken from the roll of attorneys and counselors-at-law; the respondent must now comply with the court’s rules governing the conduct of disbarred, suspended and resigned attorneys; the respondent is commanded to desist and refrain from practicing law in any form, either as principal or as agent, clerk or employee of another, from appearing as an attorney or counselor-at-law before any court, Judge, Justice, board, commission or other public authority, from giving to another an opinion as to the law or its application or any advice in relation thereto, and from holding himself out in any way as an attorney and counselor-at-law.

Accordingly, the petitioner’s motion to confirm the report of the Special Referee is granted.
Stephen Bilkis & Associates provides free legal consultations. Contact us now and discuss your case with us. Know your rights and what legal steps are available to you for your protection. Our Nassau County Estate Litigation Attorneys are more than willing to assist you. We have our Nassau County Probate Attorneys or our Nassau County Will Contest Attorneys, and the like, on standby to answer any of your legal queries. Our legal experts have had extensive training, experience, and skill so they can give you the best legal advice there is.

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