Attorney Disbarred For Borrowing $212,500 From Grieving Client
On March 25, 2020, an appellate court covering Suffolk County found that a Riverhead attorney had taken advantage of a grieving widow who had just received $300,000 in life insurance proceeds following the death of her husband. The attorney was retained by the widow to file a petition for probate. The attorney told the widow that she operated a Christian Bookstore that was on the brink of foreclosure and that it was "God's plan" for the widow to help save it from an imminent sale. Over the next 9 months the attorney borrowed substantial sums of money on six separate occasions totaling $212,500. The court found that some of the loans were coerced by threats that all of the money previously loaned would be lost if an additional loan was not extended.
Disbarment was warranted according to the decision because the attorney: never advised the client to seek independent counsel; never memorialized the existence or terms of the loans in writing; refused to repay the loans and falsely claimed they were gifts; lacked candor and showed no remorse. An aggravating circumstance found was the attorney told the client that "the Lord had chosen her" to save the Christian Bookstore. A violation of Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct was found. Matter of Gilliam, 121 N.Y.S. 3d 348
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