Belfast attorney accused of exploiting elderly clients can still practice law with strict conditions

Posted Jan. 07, 2014, at 5:31 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The attorney accused this fall of financially exploiting two elderly clients can still practice law in Maine — for now — but under strict conditions that were imposed last month by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

William L. Dawson may no longer act under a power of attorney for any individuals, may not manage client finances or otherwise control their funds and must cooperate with an independent audit of his checking, savings and bank accounts, among other conditions detailed in the Dec. 16 consent order.

Messages left for the longtime Belfast attorney and the two Portland lawyers who are representing him were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Last fall, the Waldo County Probate Court acted to remove two elderly women from the control of Dawson, who obtained a license to practice law in Maine in 1989. Both women had granted Dawson power of attorney. Documents entered into court showed that he had paid himself nearly $150,000 from the bank accounts of an 86-year-old who suffers from memory loss and depression. The documents also show that over a 9-month period, he paid himself $178,500 from the accounts of a 98-year-old woman who suffers from dementia. Both women are widows with no children and few family members living nearby.

The alleged financial exploitation was first brought to light by bankers who contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to say they suspected something was wrong. A caseworker from the department twice interviewed the two women at the Harbor Hill assisted care facility, where they reside, and afterward filed a request for temporary guardianship appointments for the women. Caseworker Joanne Cookson wrote that both were at risk of further possible financial exploitation.

The Dawson file was referred to the Maine Attorney General’s Office to see if criminal charges will be levied against him. It remains under review, according to a staff member.

According to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s consent order, written by Associate Justice Donald G. Alexander, the Board of Overseers of the Bar initiated a grievance complaint against the attorney on Oct. 11. The board filed a petition for Dawson’s temporary suspension in November, but until that matter is decided, the attorney can still practice with the aforementioned conditions imposed on him.

According to the consent order, Dawson must cooperate with the bar counsel’s investigation of the grievance complaint. If he complies with the order, the board’s petition to temporarily suspend him will be deferred, but if more information comes to light, there’s nothing preventing the bar counsel from taking further action against the Belfast attorney.

Back in 2011, Dawson was reprimanded by the bar overseers after three separate clients filed complaints alleging he had not done his work in a timely or competent fashion.

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