Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lawyer Invokes 5th Amendment In Attorney Disciplinary Hearing, Then Promptly Surrenders Law License After Refusing To Answer Questions Surrounding Alleged Losses Of Over $183K Suffered By Two Clients (Estate Of Deceased 89-Year Old & Senior Care Facility-Bound 96-Year Old)

In Topeka, Kansas, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports:
  • Topeka lawyer Margo E. Burson faced a formal complaint based on the losses of more than $183,000 by two Topeka women.

    The family of one woman said she violated their trust. A nursing home had asked her repeatedly to fill out required paperwork for the other woman.

    But when Burson appeared at a disciplinary hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court and was asked what authority she had to remove money from a client’s account without a judge’s approval, she paused.

    “At this time, I decline to answer,” Burson said.

    “I’m sorry. What?” Justice Dan Biles asked.

    I decline to answer,” Burson said.

    Are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Biles asked.

    Yes,” Burson said.

    With that, questioning about the status of the money ended. That hearing was June 15.

    The Fifth Amendment protects a defendant from testifying to something that might be self-incriminating. A witness may sometimes “plead the Fifth” in district court cases.

    But disciplinary administrator Stan Hazlett said he couldn’t recall the protection being used in an attorney disciplinary hearing.

    In a letter dated July 18, Burson voluntarily surrendered her Kansas law license, and the Kansas Supreme Court disbarred her a day later.

    Burson was facing two complaints filed by the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator, which polices the conduct of Kansas lawyers, based on the losses of more than $183,000 by two Topeka women.

    The estate of Dorothy May Harvey, an 89-year-old woman who died in September 2011, and a 96-year-old woman living in a senior care facility reported the losses. The name of the older woman hasn’t been disclosed in public documents.

    ‘Betrayed’

    Family members were grateful for Burson’s help during Harvey’s final illness, and Burson got initial accounting to family within days of Harvey’s death.

    “We trusted her implicitly,” said Don Peters, a brother-in-law of Harvey who is married to her sister, June Peters.

    Peters, who lives outside of Kansas, said Harvey’s obituary even reflected respect for the attorney.

    “The family expresses their deep appreciation to Margo Burson, who lovingly managed her health care affairs,” the obituary said.

    But the closing of the estate is still ongoing, Peters said. The Peterses became a little suspicious about a year after Harvey’s death, and by September 2016, they registered a complaint with the disciplinary administrator’s office.

    “In essence, she violated our trust, very seriously,” Peters said. “We feel betrayed, not so much for the money lost but for the time (lost).”

    Ten internet transfers totaling $66,000 were made from the Harvey estate account, then were deposited into Burson’s operating account, according to disciplinary administrator’s records.

    The transfers started on Aug. 19, 2016, and ended on Jan. 30, 2017, and ranged from $1,000 to $19,000 for each transfer, the records show.

    “We did trust her for years, unfortunately, until we learned she didn’t merit our trust,” Peters said. “She is now our ex-lawyer.”

    In the other complaint against Burson, more than $117,249 wasn’t paid to the account of a 96-year-old woman living at Brewster Place, officials said.

    The disciplinary administrator received a complaint from an individual reviewing accounts on behalf of Brewster Place, where Burson had power of attorney for a resident beginning in 2005.

    Records show Brewster Place sent letters and emails to Burson “on numerous occasions” asking her to fill out and file a Medicaid application, a request that began in March 2014.

    By February 2017, the resident’s balance due to Brewster Place was more than $99,000, and on May 24, the balance was $117,249.

    When the complaint was filed in June, Burson hadn’t completed the Medicaid application process, and the resident remained at the facility.

    “Brewster Place does not wish to evict” the woman, the complaint said.

    ‘Worn out’

    In an interview last week, Burson said she couldn’t talk at length about the disciplinary case.

    “I am not in a position to discuss it at this time,” Burson said.

    The disciplinary action coincides with Burson’s planned retirement, she said. Burson said she had planned to retire at the end of the fiscal year, which was June 30.

    The timing “on the other matter” happened to coincide with her retirement, she said.

    “It was a surrender of the license,” Burson said, “rather than a knock down, drag out (disciplinary hearing). Some of us are worn out and ready to do something else.”

    A full evidentiary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 17 before a three-member panel of lawyers, but that was canceled after Burson surrendered her license.

    During her June 15 appearance before the Kansas Supreme Court, Burson asked for time to complete documents for several other clients. She cited her health as a reason for retiring, saying she developed arthritis in the mid-1980s.

    Lawyers facing serious allegations in disciplinary cases appear before the supreme court justices, and hearings are recorded on video. Serious cases include alleged acts of dishonesty, misappropriation of money and extreme misconduct.

    The day Burson appeared before justices, they temporarily suspended her law license.

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