Sunday, July 25, 2010

Probate Lawyer Disbarred

The ABAJournal reports on the disbarment of New Hampshire probate attorney Lynn Morse,  The opinion of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire is at the link.
Mr. Morse is an extraordinary example of an attorney who procrastinated himself into disbarment. Morse did this in his handling or rather, I should say his mishandling of a guardianship and subsequent probate estate matter: 

"In disbarring Mr. Morse the NH Supreme Court said:We retain the ultimate authority to determine the sanction for a violation of the rules governing attorney conduct.  When determining whether to impose the ultimate sanction of disbarment, we focus not on punishing the offender, but on protecting the public, maintaining public confidence in the bar, preserving the integrity of the legal profession, and preventing similar conduct in the future. We consider the case on its own facts and circumstances in deciding the sanction. The sanction we impose must take into account the severity of the misconduct. . .

We look to the Standards for guidance. Under the Standards, we consider the following factors when imposing sanctions: (a) the duty violated; (b) the lawyer's mental state; (c) the potential or actual injury caused by the lawyer's misconduct; and (d) the existence of aggravating or mitigating factors.  We first categorize the respondent's misconduct and identify the baseline sanction. After determining the sanction, we then consider the effect of any aggravating or mitigating factors on the ultimate sanction. Id. Where there are multiple misconduct charges, "the sanction imposed should at least be consistent with the sanction for the most serious instance of misconduct among a number of violations; it might well be and generally should be greater than the sanction for the most serious misconduct."

[With citations of law deleted]
Essentially what Mr. Morse did was fail to attend to this legal matter.   For years he failed to file or he lied saying he had filed required accounting paperwork and tax returns.  Morse prejudiced the beneficiaries of the nearly half-million dollar estate, including one of who died before attorneys distributed proceeds due to the beneficiary under the terms of the Estate.  Morse even failed to file a brief in his own disciplinary case.  The NH Supreme Court decision unanimously rejected a recommended 2 year suspension of the state disciplinary authorities to permanently disbar Mr. Morse.

This is an astonishing case--but, I imagine there are a lot of solo practitioners out there that are going to read this opinion and squirm.  Squirm, because like me, there are areas of my personal and professional life that I did not deal with.  Normal areas of life that required "normal perfection," not extraordinary heroics.  I rationalized my failure to attend to normal day-to-day responsibilities by saying to myself--look at how well you did in this crisis or this tragedy--ignoring at my ultimate peril the quotidian.  If this is you, GET HELP.   There is help available, call your local Lawyers Assistance Program.


  1. We first categorize the respondent's misconduct and establish the baseline sanction. After figuring out the sanction, we then consider the effect of any aggravating or mitigating factors on the ultimate sanction.

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