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Legal Ethics

Disbarment Urged for Estate Planning Lawyer Who Married Elderly Client and Kept His Money

Posted Apr 10, 2012 2:56 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Linda Nell Lowney was 54 in 2005 when she became romantically involved with an estate planning client, at least several years after she had begun representing him.

She married Thor Tollefsen, who was thirty years older, suffering from emphysema and terminal cancer and using a walker, early in 2006, under a confidential marriage license that falsely stated the two were living together. Within a year, he was complaining to relatives that Lowney wasn't taking care of him as she had promised and went to live in a senior care facility, explains the State Bar of California review department in an opinion (PDF) last week.

In early 2007, after Tollefsen died, the relatives in Norway to whom he had initially planned to give his estate discovered that Lowney still held the remainder of $340,000 in funds he had transferred to her in August 2005 with the expectation that she would use the money to pay for his care. She contended that the money had been given to her as his girlfriend, not as his attorney.

However, Lowney had been entrusted with the money as a fiduciary, as Tollefsen's attorney, the opinion says, and hence committed an act of moral turpitude by misappropriating the funds, among other misconduct. Compounding the situation, she lacked remorse and viewed herself as a victim, despite the fact that her actions deprived the Norway relatives of their rightful inheritance for four years and cost them a substantial amount of attorney fees.

Despite a hitherto unblemished disciplinary record during 32 years of law practice, Lowney should be disbarred, the review department held, because she "took financial advantage of a sick, elderly client—conduct the hearing judge rightly called 'heartless and egregious.' Given Lowney's lack of insight, we agree with the hearing judge that 'disbarment is the only adequate means of protecting the public from further wrongdoing.' "

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Lawyer Is Suspended Over Her Marriage to an Elderly Client"

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