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In re Long

July 20, 2006

IN RE J. SINCLAIR LONG, RESPONDENT.
A MEMBER OF THE BAR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS (BAR REGISTRATION NO. 433372)



Per curiam.

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN 052-98).

Argued December 20, 2005

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, RUIZ, Associate Judge, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

The Board on Professional Responsibility has recommended that J. Sinclair Long, a member of the Bar of this court since 1992, be suspended from the practice of law for thirty days.*fn1

Although Long's professional legal career was in government service and criminal law, he personally became involved with legal affairs of an aged family friend, Mrs. Lessie T. Lowery, and her relative and caretaker, Mr. Wilbert Harris. In doing so, he had no self-serving intent; his actions reflected his desire to be helpful. The only money Long ever received from either of them was the $75 that Mrs. Lowery paid him to prepare her will.

The Board ruled, and Long concedes, that when he drafted the will for Mrs. Lowery, he incompetently represented her interests and engaged in a conflict of interest without full disclosure to her.*fn2 On appeal, Long excepts only to the Board's recommended sanction. He contends that the Board misconstrued In re Boykins, 748 A.2d 413 (D.C. 2000), a case involving similar charges, when it refused to stay the thirty-day suspension in favor of probation, as was done in Boykins.*fn3 We agree with Long that Boykins is controlling. Before entering into a discussion of Boykins, we set forth, in an abbreviated fashion, the facts of this case.

I.

Long was admitted to the District of Columbia bar on June 1, 1992. He is also a member of the Bar of the State of Pennsylvania, having been admitted on May 12, 1978. At the time of the hearing, Long was an assistant general counsel at the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. In the past, he served as counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, and maintained a criminal law practice. He has no history of disciplinary violations.

At the time of the events at issue, Long had been friends with Wilbert Harris for approximately 25 years. Through Harris, Long became friends with the elderly Mrs. Lowery and her husband. After the passing of Mrs. Lowery's husband, Harris moved into her home and assumed the responsibility of her care. Long had occasion to socialize with Mrs. Lowery when he visited Harris at her home. To Long, it appeared that Harris took appropriate care of Mrs. Lowery and that the two had a good relationship. Long believed that Harris was Mrs. Lowery's sole living relative.

At some point in the spring or summer of 1996, Harris approached Long with a form book in hand, and requested that Long draft a will in which Mrs. Lowery would leave all her assets to Harris. Long agreed to draft the will, despite his having no experience in estate planning. Long edited the form will in an attempt to comply with the requirements of District of Columbia law. He did not seek the advice of other attorneys more experienced with estate planning nor did he perform any legal research on the subject. Long prepared two drafts of the will, the second of which he submitted to Harris for his approval. After correcting a few errors, Long gave the final draft to Harris, instructing him to have Mrs. Lowery sign the will in front of two witnesses.

Sometime before Long produced the final draft of the will, he spoke with Mrs. Lowery at her home. Long remarked that he understood that she intended to "turn[] over the farm to Mr. Harris." Mrs. Lowery responded, "yes, [h]e's been taking care of me." Long did not become knowledgeable about the existence or identity of Mrs. Lowery's other relatives, he had no specific knowledge of her finances, and he did not discuss her intentions in anything more than this perfunctory manner. He took no special precautions in light of Mrs. Lowery's advanced age and medical condition in anticipation of a challenge to the will. Long charged Mrs. Lowery $75 for preparing her will, which she paid for by a check dated August 15, 1996. Ten days later, Mrs. Lowery signed the will in the presence of two witnesses.

On December 27, 1997, Mrs. Lowery died. Several nieces and nephews contested the will that Long had drafted. The contest ended in a settlement in which Harris received 40% of the estate and Mrs. Lowery's other heirs received 60% of the estate.

During the period of time when the will was being prepared, Long was also assisting Harris in another matter relating to Mrs. Lowery. In February 1996, District of Columbia Adult Protective Services ("APS") received information concerning the possible exploitation and neglect of Mrs. Lowery, who was 87 at the time.*fn4 APS first visited Mrs. Lowery at Providence Hospital on February 14. Thereafter, APS repeatedly sought to visit Mrs. Lowery at her home.

Perceiving APS's visitation attempts as unwarranted intrusions, Harris enlisted the aid of Long. Long agreed, believing that Mrs. Lowery indeed did not wish to speak with APS staff. Accordingly, Long drafted a power of attorney, executed by Mrs. Lowery, ...


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