Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Attorney Who Tried to Funnel Elderly Clients’ Money to Wife and Boy Scouts Suspended

A Toledo attorney who made his wife and son’s Boy Scout troop the potential recipients of an elderly client’s $38,000 insurance benefit was suspended for two years, with one year stayed, by the Ohio Supreme Court today.

In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court agreed with the Board of Professional Conduct that Jerry J. Bishop II not only altered an elderly couple’s financial documents without their consent, but also lied about his behavior during disciplinary proceedings.

Couple Hired Attorney for Estate Planning
Bishop met Isadore and Helen Urbanski in 2013 and agreed to assist with their estate planning. The Urbanskis had purchased a New York Life Insurance Company annuity in 2006. Helen was listed as the primary beneficiary of the annuity, and in October 2013, the couple changed the contingent beneficiary to the Little Flower Catholic Church.

In December 2013, Isadore, then 93 years old, and Helen, then 92, signed a change-of-beneficiary form that designated Bishop’s wife, identified by her maiden name as Maureen McQuillen, and Boy Scout Troop 222, as the contingent beneficiaries of the annuity. McQuillen’s full Social Security number was included on the form. It was not disclosed to the Urbanskis that McQuillen, who had not used her maiden name in nearly 20 years, was Bishop’s wife, or that his son belonged to Troop 222.

The next day the Urbanskis each executed their wills, with Bishop and his wife serving as the witnesses.

Bank Alerts Couple to Change
In October 2015, PNC Investments sent the Urbanskis a letter advising them that while they had designated McQuillen and the scout troop as the contingent beneficiaries, they had not named a primary beneficiary on the form. A friend who helped the Urbanskis manage their financial matters saw the letter. After Isadore died in March 2017, the friend filed a grievance against Bishop with the Toledo Bar Association, attaching the PNC letter.

In response to the bar association’s inquiry, Bishop did not acknowledge that he was involved in changing the beneficiary, but did state he would recommend that his client take corrective action. Helen Urbanski then completed a new form designating herself as the primary beneficiary and her estate as the contingent beneficiary. She died in December 2017, and the annuity, valued at $38,000, passed to her estate.

Lawyer Denies Involvement
The bar association complained to the Board of Professional Conduct that Bishop violated several of the rules governing the conduct of Ohio attorneys when he changed the annuity’s beneficiaries. At a bar association hearing on the matter in September 2018, Bishop expressed surprise that his wife’s maiden name, birthdate, Social Security number, and address along with the Boy Scout troop’s number were handwritten on the form. He testified that he had no explanation for how that happened and he did not acknowledge that he recognized the handwriting to be his own.

At a May 2019 hearing before a three-member board panel, Bishop repeatedly testified that he had “virtually no recollection” of the 2013 events surrounding the change-of-beneficiary, but did recall the events regarding the following day’s execution of the Urbanskis’ wills. Bishop also claimed that he was not in violation of professional conduct rules if he had changed the beneficiaries because he maintained a close familial relationship with the Urbanskis. Bishop acknowledged that neither he nor his wife are related to the couple.

Ultimately, Bishop admitted it was his handwriting on the change form. The board found he violated the rule prohibiting a lawyer from preparing a client document that grants a gift to the lawyer or a family member of the lawyer unless they are related to the client. Because Bishop designated his wife as the beneficiary, the board found he engaged in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.

Bishop’s reluctance to disclose his involvement in the form change constituted a failure to disclose a material fact requested by a disciplinary authority, the board found. The board also concluded that Bishop’s false testimony regarding his lack of recollection of the change violated the rule against engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

Board Recommends Suspension
The Court adopted the board’s finding that Bishop acted with a dishonest or selfish motive, failed to cooperate with disciplinary proceedings, made false statements during the disciplinary process, and refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct.

The Court agreed with the board’s recommendation that Bishop be suspended for two years, with one year stayed on the condition that he commit no further misconduct. Bishop also is required to pay for the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.

2019-0804. Toledo Bar Assn. v. Bishop, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-5288.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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