Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Illinois Hearing Review Board Report which recommended a 3 year suspension for a lawyer who allegedly who allegedly took $95,000.00 from his retired secretary for his own personal use. The disciplinary matter is In re: Charles William Helmig, Commission No. 2013PR00019 (Ill. 11/25/14). The Report and Recommendation is here: http://www.iardc.org/HB_RB_Disp_Html.asp?id=11553.
According to the Report and Recommendation, the secretary worked for the lawyer from 1964 until 1984 when she retired. She never married and had few close relatives. In 2005, the former secretary was at least 83 years old and had been hospitalized. Eventually both of her legs were amputated, her condition deteriorated, and by 2009 she was not mentally competent. From 2005 until her death in March 2013, the secretary was either in the hospital or a nursing home.
While she was in the hospital in 2005, the former secretary asked the lawyer to prepare a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and a Power of Attorney for Property for her. There was a stipulation that the secretary was competent when she signed the documents; however, the lawyer testified he was concerned about her abilities at that time and he read and explained the documents to her before she signed them.
The lawyer then began to manage the former secretary’s business affairs and collected her assets and sold her home. The lawyer admitted that he charged the secretary over $27,000.00 in “legal fees” from 2005 through 2013. He also admitted that, beginning in 2009 and through 2012, the secretary was not mentally competent and was unable to recognize him. During that time, the lawyer took over $95,000.00 from the secretary’s assets and used the funds for his own personal and business expenses. He admitted that he did not ask have the secretary’s permission to take the money (nor did he ask for it) and that she was not competent to give her consent.
The lawyer also failed to timely pay the nursing home where the former secretary was living, which resulted in the nursing home involuntarily transferring her. In addition, acting as the secretary’s lawyer, he failed to appear at a status conference and failed to comply with an agreed order entered in the matter.
The lawyer stated that he was in a “very bad financial condition” when he took the money and that he had defaulted on loans of more than $1.2 million dollars and had federal tax liens for several hundred thousand dollars. The lawyer claimed the $95,000.00 were loans and provided, for the first time at his sworn statement, a series of promissory notes that the Hearing Board did not believe were executed at the time of the “loans”.
According to the Report and Recommendation, “(a) lesser sanction than disbarment was appropriate. While the lawyer’s conduct could support a sanction of disbarment, we agree with the Hearing Board’s recommendation that the lawyer’s misconduct warrants a three year suspension. However, we recommend that the suspension continue until further order of the Court. The lawyer’s failure to fully understand the impropriety of his acts, as evidenced by his continued insistence that the takings were loans and his poor financial condition, support the necessity of a future assessment before he resumes the practice of law.”
Bottom line: The Report and Recommendation found that this lawyer took over $95,000.00 from his retired secretary and paid his own personal and business expenses without her permission when she was not competent to give her consent. He also apparently provided fabricated promissory notes at his sworn statement to justify his actions. He failed to pay the nursing home which resulted in her involuntary transfer, failed to appear at a hearing on her behalf, and failed to comply with an agreed Order. Under these facts, it is very surprising that the discipline recommendation was not disbarment. The disciplinary matter and this Board’s recommendation will now be reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court. We will see what that court decides.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670