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In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Gray

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

April 18, 2018

In the Matter of Disciplinary Proceedings Against Linda L. Gray, Attorney at Law:
Linda L. Gray, Respondent. Office of Lawyer Regulation, Complainant,


         ATTORNEY disciplinary proceeding. Attorney's license suspended.

          PER CURIAM

         ¶1 Pending before the court is the report of referee Jonathan V. Goodman, following a hearing and the receipt of a stipulation and supplemental stipulation between the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and the respondent, Attorney Linda L. Gray. Attorney Gray has opted to plead no contest to the sole misconduct count brought against her: a violation of SCR 20:1.8 (c)[1] related to her drafting of the will of M.A., who died at age 71 in January 2015. Although Attorney Gray is not related to M.A., she received a significant testamentary gift from her: the balance of her estate after specific bequests to charities were distributed, which resulted in Attorney Gray receiving $298, 742.12. Consistent with the parties' stipulation, the referee recommended that this court suspend Attorney Gray's Wisconsin law license for 60 days for her professional misconduct. The referee further recommended that Attorney Gray should be assessed the full costs of the proceeding, which are $2, 067.67 as of January 17, 2018. The OLR does not seek the payment of restitution in these proceedings, and the referee does not recommend it.

         ¶2 No appeal has been filed so we review this matter pursuant to SCR 22.17(2) .[2] We approve and adopt the referee's findings and conclusions and we agree that a 60-day suspension is sufficient discipline for Attorney Gray's misconduct. We further order that Attorney Gray pay the full costs of this disciplinary proceeding. We decline to order restitution.

         ¶3 Attorney Gray was admitted to the practice of law in Wisconsin in 1982. She practiced law in East Troy, Wisconsin at the time of the filing of the complaint. Her disciplinary history consists of one private reprimand imposed some time ago, in the 1980s.

         ¶4 Attorney Gray knew M.A. since the mid-1980s. M.A. never married, had no children, and was estranged from her siblings and other relatives. Attorney Gray and M.A. became close friends and remained so for many years preceding M.A.'s death.

         ¶5 M.A. died in January 2015 at age 71 after a battle with cancer. During M.A.'s illness, Attorney Gray spent a great deal of time attending to M.A.'s needs, rendering what the referee described as "outstanding care and attention" that went "above and beyond the norm in her devotion to [M.A.] and her assistance and care in [M.A.'s] final years, months, and days." The care rendered by Attorney Gray included, but was not limited to, spending considerable time taking M.A. to and from her required medical treatments.

         ¶6 In 2013, M.A. asked Attorney Gray to draft a will to replace one that Attorney Gray had drafted for her many years earlier, in 2000. Attorney Gray did so, and M.A signed the will before witnesses in September 2013. M.A.'s drafting instructions for the will were clear: no bequests were to be made to any of her relatives; specific bequests were to be made to certain charities; and the balance of her estate was to be distributed to Attorney Gray. Attorney Gray drafted the will in accordance with these instructions, and M.A. signed the will in the presence of witnesses. There is no dispute that M.A. had testamentary capacity at the time she signed her will.

         ¶7 After M.A.'s death, the will went through probate without contest. Attorney Gray served as the personal representative.

         ¶8 As explained above, under the terms of the will, Attorney Gray received over $290, 000 from M.A.'s estate. Her receipt of this money triggered a complaint to the OLR by a relative of M.A. who had little in the way of a relationship with M.A. during her lifetime.

         ¶9 The parties stipulated and the referee concluded that Attorney Gray had violated SCR 20:1.8(c) by drafting M.A.'s will, given that Attorney Gray was not related to M.A. and received a significant residuary gift from the will. On the basis of this professional misconduct, the parties stipulated to a 60-day suspension of Attorney Gray's license. The referee adopted that stipulation as his recommendation to the court. He wrote that, although one could "easily conclude" that a public reprimand would be appropriate here, a 60-day suspension is appropriate given the gravity of the offense and the need to deter other attorneys from engaging in similar conduct.

         ¶10 The referee held an evidentiary hearing to evaluate whether this court should order Attorney Gray to reimburse M.A.'s estate for the nearly $300, 000 residuary gift she received. After hearing testimony from Attorney Gray and two of M.A.'s long-time friends, the referee recommended against a restitution order, citing Attorney Gray's age (70 years old), the loss of business and income she incurred as a result of adverse publicity generated by these proceedings, and "the lack of evidence of any undue influence" by Attorney Gray on M.A.

         ¶11 After careful review of the matter, we conclude that the record supports the referee's findings ...

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