by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
The Independent has obtained documents filed from the State of Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission in January in Genesee County against then city of Owosso attorney William Brown. A hearing included three panel members, with John Burgess representing as the senior associate counsel for the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. Kenneth Mogill represented Brown.
As stated in the complaint, the grievance was filed “alleging the respondent (Brown) had committed professional misconduct,” in connection to a Restatement of Trust Identure/Living Trust legal issue regarding the estate of Jack E. Walworth, and his wife, Ruth Walworth that ultimately resulted in the case with the Juddville United Methodist Church over $2,194,517 in principal. In June 2016, the Michigan Attorney General brought suit on behalf of the church against Brown in the Shiawassee County 35th Circuit Court for the “improper compensation accepted by the respondent by way of the ‘disclaimer,’” asking that Brown be held liable as trustee for said funds that had “been incorrectly treated as income and not principal.”
A confidential settlement in 2017 on the matter between Brown and the church resulted in “full restitution/reimbursement” to the church, and a dismissal of the action by the attorney general. It should be noted that Brown is a first cousin, once removed, to the Walworth couple, and a fee agreement had never been executed, likely lending to ensuing confusion. Jack Walworth passed away in 2012 and Ruth passed in 2014.
The Attorney Grievance Commission, according to Brown’s admissions and his plea of no contest, has concluded that he “handled a legal matter which the lawyer knew or should have known that the lawyer was not competent to handle,” with the commission deciding to take disciplinary action as of Friday, Feb. 23 to suspend his license to practice law in Michigan for 180 days.
The formal complaint listed these reasons leading to the suspension: handling a legal matter which the lawyer knows or should know that the lawyer is not competent to handle, charging and/or collecting an illegal or clearly excessive fee, failing to take reasonable efforts to correct a misunderstanding of an unrepresented party regarding the lawyer’s interest, and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the proper administration of justice.
The city of Owosso has moved forward, hiring Scott Gould of Gould Law, P.C. as the new city attorney during the city council meeting on Monday, Feb. 5. Gould is both a practicing Owosso attorney and resident.