State bar overseers impose conditions on attorney accused of 'financial exploitation'
Augusta — The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar issued a consent order imposing conditions on a Belfast attorney who has recently faced allegations that he mishandled the finances of two elderly clients.
The conditions, according to the consent order, are pending the outcome of an investigation resulting from a grievance complaint the board initiated against Belfast attorney William Dawson in October.
In the order dated Dec. 16, 2013, and signed by Associate Justice Donald G. Alexander, the board immediately barred Dawson from acting as power of attorney for any individuals and managing the finances or controlling any client funds.
According to the order, Dawson was additionally required to cooperate with an independent audit — with the auditor to be selected by the board — of Dawson's checking, savings and other bank accounts, "and of all matters in which Attorney Dawson has acted in a fiduciary capacity, including [Interest on Lawyer Trust] accounts, at any time within the last three calendar years."
The order also stated Dawson would comply with the court's order to pay for the audit, and that Dawson must cooperate with the bar counsel's investigation of the grievance complaint itself, which the order stated the board initiated Oct. 11, 2013. The outcome of the matter is pending the completion of the bar counsel probe and a subsequent review from the panel of the grievance commission.
According to the order, the board filed its petition for Dawson's temporary suspension Nov. 21, 2013, a petition that could be deferred if Dawson complies with the Dec. 16 consent order, and pending the outcome of the grievance investigation.
Dawson provided an affidavit to the board, according to the order, in which he swore his client trust account contains only funds related to a special needs trust, funds from dividends related to an estate matter pending distribution and funds related to another estate matter that also await distribution.
In May, a Maine Department of Health and Human Services social worker accused Dawson of financially exploiting two elderly women residing at Harbor Hill in Belfast for whom he had served as power of attorney. In addition, the social worker filed affidavits with the Waldo County Probate Court asking for temporary appointment on behalf of those women.
One of the alleged victims is 98 years old and court records state she suffers from dementia, and the second woman is 86 years old and court documents state she has multiple medical conditions including memory loss, anxiety disorder, depression and severe congestive heart failure.
Joanne Cookson, a licensed social worker with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, filed affidavits of support for a temporary appointment on behalf of the two women May 7, and stated in both affidavits that a temporary appointment "is necessary to prevent serious, immediate and irreparable harm to the financial interests of the person alleged to be incapacitated/in need of protection."
Referring to the allegations against Dawson concerning the estate of the 98-year-old woman, who has been at Harbor Hill since July 2012, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and again in April and observed the woman was "not aware of her finances and has left complete control to her current [power of attorney,] Mr. William Dawson, Esq."
The 98-year-old appointed Dawson to that position in June 2012.
Cookson further told the court the 98-year-old has money in two local financial institutions. At Key Bank, statements as of March 20, 2013 showed she had $261,830.43 in checking and $242,845.38 and $200,224.22 in two separate certificates of deposits.
"Over the last year, Mr. William Dawson has paid himself $123,800 as [power of attorney]," stated Cookson.
At Camden National Bank, the 98-year-old had $26,019.60 in her checking account, and the social worker stated Dawson had paid himself $54,700 as power of attorney over a nine-month period.
"[The 98-year-old] is at risk of further possible financial exploitation and is in need of immediate intervention in order to have all of her finances preserved for her care," Cookson stated.
In reference to the 86-year-old woman, who according to court records has resided at Harbor Hill since 2009, Cookson stated she visited the woman in February and April of this year and offered similar reasons for petitioning the court for the temporary order.
Like the elder of Dawson's clients, Cookson said the 86-year-old had left complete control of her finances to Dawson. The woman appointed Dawson as power of attorney in September 2005, stated Cookson.
During those visits, Cookson observed the 86-year-old "has significant memory loss and limited insight concerning her physical and intellectual capacities. [She] is unable to manage her finances and she forgets she cannot provide for herself without staff assistance."
The 86-year-old, stated Cookson, also has money at Key Bank and Camden National Bank, and as of April 9, Key Bank statements indicate the woman had $11,539.32 in checking and $10,895.65 in savings. Bank records also showed Dawson paid himself $32,000 as power of attorney in the past year.
Camden National Bank statements indicated as of April 4, the 86-year-old woman had $7,310.96 in a checking account, $540,081.41 in savings as well as $165,000 and $40,000 in two separate certificates of deposit. In reference to those accounts, Cookson stated Dawson paid himself $117,275 for his services in the past year.
Since Cookson filed that affidavit with the court, Probate Judge Susan Longley approved the appointment of Susan Thiem to serve as the attorney for both women for the purposes of the hearing to address the petitions from DHHS for the appointments of guardians and conservators in both cases.
Waldo County Probate Court records dated June 4 showed Judge Susan Longley issued an interim order in response to the allegations that in part barred Dawson from "writing checks to himself, his firm and/or his family."
Probate court records showed a Nov. 5 hearing on the matter was continued on the court's motion, and that the court has since scheduled a telephonic pretrial conference on the joined petitions for appointments of guardians and conservators Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 7.
Since the details of the allegations became public last fall, Dawson has not returned repeated calls to his law office seeking comment on the issue.
In October, Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said the matter had been turned over to his office for consideration of potential criminal charges.
"I have spoken with an attorney at the [attorney general's] office and they have agreed to accept the case and review it to avoid any possible appearance of a conflict of interest as the case involves a local attorney," stated Walker in his email.
Friday, Jan. 3, Walker said he had not heard any new information on the status of the attorney general's office's investigation.
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.
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