Sexual relationship with elderly client brings suspension

An attorney who engaged in sex with a 70-plus-year-old client suffering from Alzheimer's disease has been suspended from practicing law for nearly four years. PAUL MICHAEL GRAY [#140320], 50, of Hemet also induced the elderly woman to give him $50,000 and ignored a court order forbidding contact with her. Gray was suspended for five years, stayed, and placed on five years of probation with an actual 42-month suspension and until he makes restitution to two clients and proves his rehabilitation. He also was ordered to take the MPRE and comply with rule 955. The order took effect April 19, 1998.

After a default hearing, the State Bar Court found in one matter that Gray committed three acts of moral turpitude as a result of his relationship with an elderly client. He was hired by the client, who was over 70 and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, to help her reconcile with her husband. During a trip to Arizona to meet with the husband, Gray learned of his client's considerable financial worth. During the same trip, Gray, who was 47 at the time, engaged in sexual relations with his client.

Several months later, he induced the client to give him $50,000, ostensibly to relocate his practice to northern California, where he planned to move with his client. When Gray learned the client stopped payment on the check the next day, he pressured her into giving him a second check.

Gray never advised the client in writing to seek the advice of independent counsel; instead he gave her a list of attorneys and told her to choose one and instruct that attorney to write a letter indicating that the money was a gift.

Several months later, the client's conservators obtained a temporary restraining order against Gray forbidding further any contact with the client. He remained in contact with his client, and continued to meet and talk with her despite a subsequent injunction prohibiting harassment. At times, he spoke to his client as many as six times a day by phone.

After the client's representatives sued Gray for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, he agreed to repay the $50,000. He entered into a settlement and paid her $25,000 but never paid the balance.

During the trial before the bar court, Gray's client submitted a declaration that she had never had sexual relations with him. The court determined, however, that the declaration was written by Gray.

It found that Gray committed acts of moral turpitude by having sex with a vulnerable woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease, by manipulating her to give him $50,000, and by failing to advise her in writing to seek independent counsel about bestowing money on him.

"An elderly woman looking for companionship who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease unwittingly became (Gray's) prey," wrote the hearing judge. He "abused the trust that had been reposed in him."

In another case, Gray was retained to represent a client who was trying to evict a tenant. When the tenant filed for bankruptcy, Gray's client agreed he should file a motion requesting relief from the automatic stay in order to permit the eviction case to proceed. He never filed the motion.

When the client tried to contact Gray, she learned he had moved from his office three months earlier.