Area attorney disbarred for mishandling estate

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires

DETROIT — A Grosse Pointe Woods attorney has been disbarred by an Attorney Discipline Board panel after findings that he committed professional misconduct as administrator of a probate estate. The disbarment of Duane S. Weed was effective Feb. 17, according to an ADB notice issued the same day. His license had been suspended on an interim basis since Oct. 31, 2016, after a public hearing.

The case was heard by Tri-County Hearing Panel No. 19, which included chairperson Michael G. Vartanian, and members Timothy W. Lake and Corey D. Silverstein. John K. Burgess represented the Attorney Grievance Commission while Weed did not appear before the panel.

In August 2016, the grievance administrator filed a formal complaint alleging that Weed committed professional misconduct in relation to his involvement as administrator of a probate estate and his failure to answer a request for investigation, according to the hearing panel report.

It was alleged that Weed prepared the Last Will and Testament of Mary Forcade, then opened an informal probate action after she died.
During administration of the probate action, a devisee under the estate objected to the accounts and inventories submitted to the court by Weed. The parties agreed to binding arbitration regarding the issues raised in the objections.

“It was determined by the arbitrator that respondent: (1) had taken nearly four years to administer a relatively simple estate; (2) had not provided the relevant parties of the estate an opportunity to view the personal possessions of Ms. Forcade and had not adequately explained aspects of the administration to the parties; (3) did not account for a cash sale of a vehicle owned by Ms. Forcade; (4) had double billed, billed vaguely and billed disproportionately for unknown services, billed over $5,000 for ‘postage’ without further explanation, and billed separately and redundantly for services with simultaneous production; and (5) had billed and paid himself from the estate for significant portions of work that had not yet been performed and/or were never performed,” the report stated.

Weed did not file an answer to the complaint despite two attempts to reach him via regular and certified mail — including an attempt to a Nevada address where it was ­discovered he may be residing — and a default was filed, according to the report.

He did not appear, nor was he represented, at an Oct. 24, 2016, public hearing and the panel “was presented with no evidence that respondent had attempted to communicate with the Attorney Grievance Commission or the Attorney Discipline Board regarding his absence.”

“Based on respondent’s default for failure to file an answer to the formal complaint, the hearing panel found that respondent committed professional misconduct in relation to his involvement as administrator of a probate estate and for his failure to answer a request for investigation,” the ADB notice stated.

The panel found that Weed failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness on a client’s behalf; failed to hold property of a client separate from his own property and failed to adequately safeguard client property; failed to deposit unearned fees paid in advance in a client trust account; failed to return unearned attorney fees and other funds paid in advance to the client upon termination of the representation; knowingly disobeyed an order under the rules of a tribunal; engaged in conduct which involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and/or the violation of the criminal law; engaged in conduct that exposed the legal profession to obloquy, contempt, censure, and/or reproach; engaged in conduct that was contrary to justice, ethics, honesty, or good morals; violated or attempted to violate the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct; and failed to answer a request for investigation.

The panel followed American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions.

“Counsel argued that Standard 4.11 (Failure to Preserve the Client’s Property) and 6.21 (Abuse of the Legal Process) were the most applicable, and that disbarment is the appropriate level of discipline for respondent’s misconduct,” the report stated.

“Specifically, Standard 4.11 states that ‘disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly converts client property and causes injury or potential injury to a client.’ Standard 6.21 states that ‘disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer knowingly violates a court order or rule with the intent to obtain a benefit for the lawyer or another, and causes serious injury or potential serious injury to a party or causes serious or potential interference with a legal proceeding.’”

The panel concluded, “Misappropriation of client or other funds held as a fiduciary is one of the most egregious of all actions defined as misconduct, and it adversely reflects on the integrity of the entire legal profession, not just that of respondent. After consideration of all of these factors, including the lack of any mitigating factors other than an absence of a prior disciplinary history, it is the unanimous decision of the panel that the respondent be disbarred from the practice of law.”

Costs totaling $1,863.44 were assessed.

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