Attorneys Suspended for Mismanagement of Elderly Clients Money

In a case that speaks of the importance of choosing a qualified trustee who has proper internal controls and procedures, and who is governed by an appropriate regulatory body, The Ohio Supreme Court suspends two attorneys for one year after they negligently managed an elderly woman’s affairs. Cleveland Metro. Bar Assn. v. Zoller and Mamone (Ohio, No. 2014-1389, Nov. 8, 2016).

The client, a widow of a former mayor of Cleveland and a former justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, retained the law firm to administer the estate of her late husband. Having come to increasingly rely on the partners in the firm, the client later engaged the firm to manage her money, to pay her bills, and to handle other aspects of her financial and personal life. The client sought to be able to live independently in her own home, to afford around-the-clock care, and to make generous gifts to her family members and charitable causes.

In it’s findings, the court stated:

[The Respondents] assumed the responsibilities of operating and maintaining the special account when they opened the account and agreed to be authorized signatories. But they failed to ensure that the account was a separate, interest-bearing trust account for [Client’s] benefit during the six-year period in which substantial client assets passed through it. They also failed to maintain even a modicum of oversight over the account by failing to accurately record each transaction that affected the account and failing to reconcile the account against the monthly statements issued by the bank. Their abdication of these most basic duties to [client] resulted in more than 30 overdrafts of the account and $1,000 in associated bank fees. Respondents’ failures to act also facilitated the misconduct of their father, [name removed], who not only wrote and signed checks on the special account (even though he was not an authorized signatory) but who also collected excessive and undocumented legal fees from [client]—fees that averaged approximately $55,000 each year for six years, though more than $250,000 of those fees was actually collected in just the first two years of the representation.

For the full text of this decision, go to:

 http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2016/2016-Ohio-7639.pdf

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