September 13, 2007 in City

Attorney suspended by bar for misconduct

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane attorney David R. Hellenthal has agreed to an 18-month suspension for misconduct that included setting himself up to receive a client’s $170,000 fortune if the client died.

Hellenthal also admitted helping a young woman obtain all of her elderly, disabled husband’s money with no assurance she would take care of him.

And he admitted advising another woman to separate from her disabled husband and take full control of $1.6 million worth of property even though she didn’t understand the reason. Hellenthal didn’t talk to the woman’s husband about the transactions at all.

The couple had hired Hellenthal for estate-planning services before the husband suffered a stroke that worsened his longstanding dementia. The wife told a Washington State Bar Association investigator she thought Hellenthal’s advice had something to do with Medicaid, but she didn’t need government help to pay for her husband’s care.

That woman’s husband died, but the other woman’s brain-damaged husband was left impoverished and bedridden in a Tonasket, Wash., adult-care home run by her mother. The mother and daughter both obtained power of attorney over the man’s affairs.

The man was seriously injured in a July 2003 car crash, about six years after the couple married when he was 62 and she was 19.

With Hellenthal’s assistance, the woman got sole possession of the couple’s assets, her husband’s Social Security and military pensions, and a $78,000 insurance settlement from the accident.

Bar association documents say the husband eventually became suspicious, and his children hired another lawyer to try to recover his money. The state Adult Protective Services Division investigated his wife for alleged financial exploitation but dismissed the charge after a contested hearing.

In both cases involving couples, bar association documents say Hellenthal filed legal papers in Lincoln County Superior Court without telling the court the men were mentally incapacitated.

Hellenthal agreed he improperly failed to communicate with the husbands and failed to make clear that representing both the husband and the wife could be a conflict of interest.

As for the man whose assets Hellenthal positioned himself to obtain, Hellenthal agreed to refund most of what the Bar Association said was an excessive $33,500 fee. The client hired another attorney to make sure a friend would inherit his money instead of Hellenthal.

The victim in that case was a 58-year-old disabled man who inherited about $170,000 from his mother. He hired Hellenthal to arrange a trust so he could keep the inheritance and still receive Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits.

Bar Association officials said the man hoped to circumvent state and federal requirements, and Hellenthal improperly failed to warn him about possible penalties.

Hellenthal, licensed in November 1988, was suffering from alcohol and drug abuse at the time of the professional misconduct, according to bar association documents. He was diagnosed with mental disorders last year and since has been receiving outpatient treatment.

As part of his stipulated suspension, he can’t be reinstated without a mental evaluation that convinces bar officials he is fit. Should he be reinstated, he will be on probation for three years.

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