New Jersey Suspends|Attorney for a Year

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – The New Jersey Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the yearlong suspension of an attorney accused of taking $80,000 from an elderly blind widow.
     William J. Torre, of Hasbrouck Heights, prepared wills for the elderly woman and her husband in the 1990s. He continued to represent her, was a longtime friend of her family, and in 2008 she gave him power of attorney and made him executor of her estate, according to the Syllabus concurred in by all six of the seven justices who heard the arguments.
     In June 2008 she gave Torre an $89,250 unsecured loan – about 70 percent of her life’s savings, according to the Syllabus, from which all the quotations and facts in this article are taken. He promised to pay it back in full by Aug. 31, 2008.
     But he’d paid back only $10,000 by June 2009, the widow got another attorney, and a court entered a default judgment against Torre for $90,720 in November 2009.
     She filed a grievance against him that month, but died before a court officer could meet with her. In January 2011, Torre made a final payment to the estate, of $9,516.
     During oral arguments, Torre acknowledged what he had done was “wrong,” but said he was waiting to repay the whole thing at once. He also claimed he had found a letter in which he advised her to seek independent counsel about the loan.
     In 2013 the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics filed a complaint against Torre alleging conflict of interest in the loan, and dishonesty and fraud regarding the letter. An OAE panel found that Torre had a “good reputation and character” and noted his lack of prior discipline. He has practiced in New Jersey since 1984. The panel recommended censure and a three-month suspension of his law license.
     But the state supreme court found that too light, and suspended him for a year, to “protect the public, guard against elder abuse by lawyers, and help preserve confidence in the bar.”
     The ruling was a shot across the bow for attorneys appointed as guardians to oversee the finances of elderly or incapacitated people. The court noted that in recent years 2,000 guardians have been appointed annually in New Jersey.
     “Until now, few reported disciplinary cases have involved harm to vulnerable, elderly victims,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote. “The discipline imposed today is meant to provide notice to attorneys that serious consequences will result from this form of misconduct.”
     Torre will be suspended until December 2017.

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