If you practice in South Florida you’ve probably heard about the the indictment of Ben Kuehne, a former president of the Dade County Bar Association, former president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors. As explained here, Kuehne is being charged with money laundering for allegedly taking tainted funds for fees.
What’s scary for lawyers about the Kuehne indictment is that even if you apparently do everything right, you may end of getting arrested for simply doing your job. Sure, you may ultimately prevail, but you’ll have to live through the personal nightmare of being arrested and charged with a crime.
I thought of the Kuehne indictment when I read here and here about a case in which two Georgia lawyers were arrested and apparently spent at least one night in jail after their client was forced to forfeit estate assets under Georgia’s Slayer Statute. Here’s an excerpt from the ABA piece:
When Candace Rader and Valerie Cooke represented Debra Post in a murder case, they were allegedly paid $320,000 in legal fees through life insurance proceeds and real estate she deeded over to them.
The problem is, their client was accused of—and eventually pleaded guilty in 2003—to murdering her husband. And, under Georgia’s “Slayer’s Statute,” a murderer isn’t entitled to profit from his or her victim’s estate, as Rader and Cooke allegedly helped their client to do, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The indictment against the two attorneys is the first time a criminal case has been brought under the statute, the newspaper reports.
Each is charged with six counts of theft by taking and one count of theft by receiving. They were taken to the Douglas County Jail after their Thursday arrest, the Atlanta paper says, and released the next day on $100,000 bond each, the Associated Press reports.
When it comes to staying out of trouble, spotting your risk exposures is half the battle (it’s the “unknown unknowns” that will get you). The Georgia case gives probate attorneys something else to worry about (as if we didn’t have enough already). If your fees could in any way be characterized as tainted by criminal conduct, you need to assume the worst and take appropriate precautions. As the Georgia lawyers learned, just because you’re the friendly neighborhood probate attorney (and not some high profile criminal defense attorney), doesn’t mean you can’t get put in jail for doing your job.
Credit goes to the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog for bringing the linked-to Georgia article to my attention in the blog post entitled Attorneys for murderer charged under slayer statute.