Thursday, December 17, 2015

N.J. Supreme Court suspends ex-Hasbrouck Heights mayor from law practice after 'unfair' loan deal with elderly client

The state Supreme Court has suspended a former mayor of Hasbrouck Heights from the practice of law after finding that he abused an elderly client, borrowing most of her life savings with an “unfair” loan agreement and repaying only a fraction before she died.

The court imposed a one-year suspension Wednesday on William J. Torre, a Republican who served as the borough's mayor from 1996 to 2004.

The state Office of Attorney Ethics had recommended a three-month suspension. But the Supreme Court called Torre’s conduct “egregious” and increased his penalty to 12 months.

In a 6-0 decision, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner indicated that it was one of the longest suspensions ever imposed on a lawyer who borrowed money from a client, which is generally discouraged in New Jersey.

The court added that Torre’s case should serve as a warning to all lawyers that abusing the elderly carries “serious consequences” such as suspension or disbarment.

“At all times, an attorney's duty of loyalty is to the client, and not the lawyer's personal financial interests,” Rabner wrote.

“A one-year suspension is warranted to protect the public and guard against elder abuse by lawyers, and to help preserve confidence in the bar,” the court said.

In June 2008, Torre borrowed around $89,000, or 70 percent of the woman’s assets. The woman, identified in court papers as M.D., was 86 years old at the time. A longtime friend of Torre and his family, M.D. had given the former mayor power of attorney and relied on him and employees at his private practice to run errands and help manage her affairs.

According to a note Torre prepared and M.D. signed, the $89,000 loan was to be repaid in two months. But nearly a year later, Torre had paid back only $10,000. The Supreme Court said the arrangement also was troubling in other ways: Torre’s loan was not secured or collateralized, and state rules on attorney conduct required him to advise M.D. in writing that she should consult another lawyer prior to signing the loan agreement with him, but there was no evidence that happened, the court found.

M.D. eventually sued Torre to collect her funds. In November 2009, she also filed an ethics complaint against him. She died a month after that.

Rabner wrote that Torre “caused substantial harm to a vulnerable, eighty-six-year-old victim.”
“Rather than be able to enjoy her twilight years in peace, she was forced to file a lawsuit to try to recoup her life savings,” he wrote.

Torre’s attorney, Raymond F. Flood, said: “Bill Torre and myself understand and accept the decision of the Supreme Court, and he intends to repay the money that he borrowed.”

Shortly before her death in 2009, M.D. won a court judgment against Torre for around $90,000. Torre, who has repaid around $44,500 so far, or around half of the loan, told the Supreme Court he intends to pay the rest to M.D.’s estate in increments until December 2017.

Flood added that “Bill Torre has an outstanding reputation in the legal community.” Torre over the years has represented the Sports and Exposition Authority, the City of Hackensack and several Bergen County lawmakers. He has served as chairman of the Anti Drug Council of Hasbrouck Heights, according to a biography on his law firm’s website. Torre did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday.

Safeguarding the elderly from abuse has been a priority for Rabner, who created a statewide program in 2013 through which lawyers and other members of the public volunteer to become court-appointed monitors for older residents, assisting them with financial and medical decisions. The chief justice has promoted the program in public remarks and says the need is growing because demographic trends show the state’s population is getting older on average.

State judges appoint more than 2,000 such guardians each year, a number that is expected to rise, Rabner said.

A spokesman for the New Jersey chapter of the AARP, Jeff Abramo, declined to comment on the case but said “more must be done to enact and enforce laws that fully fund adult protective services and make it a criminal offense, with enhanced penalties, to abuse, neglect, or exploit a vulnerable individual.”

Full Article & Source:
N.J. Supreme Court suspends ex-Hasbrouck Heights mayor from law practice after 'unfair' loan deal with elderly client

1 comment:

StandUp said...

I don't quite understand why he gets suspended but then not charged with a crime.