BRISTOL - Jodi Zils Gagne, a Bristol attorney and former city councilwoman, has been suspended from practicing law for five years after a judge found that she committed multiple conduct violations, including overbilling probate estates as a conservator, not returning the funds after being ordered to do so and profiting off of property she sold that belonged to her wards.
Gagne received the suspension after Judge Julia Dewey made a finding - which was filed Thursday, in New Britain Superior Court - that Gagne violated five rules in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Connecticut attorneys, according to court documents.
Despite the five-year suspension, Gagne will be able to apply for re-admission as an attorney after one year if she completes a number of requirements, including performing 10 hours of continuing legal education - specifically in the areas of ethics and office management - and complying with all “outstanding Probate Court orders requiring reimbursement of monies improperly received” as a conservator, court papers said.
Gagne on Friday said she intends to comply with the conditions.
“I accept the decision of the court,” she said over the phone. “I do plan to learn from my mistakes, and I intend to comply with the requirements that the judge set forth in the decision.”
According to the memorandum, Dewey found one of Gagne’s violations “the most troubling,” which the judge referred to as “self-dealing.”
This involved overbilling probate estates and not paying back the money after being ordered to do so.
According to court documents, Gagne, acting as conservator for an 89-year-old man, paid herself $19,039 in fees for working on his estate.
The state’s Probate Court only approved $8,535 of that money and, despite being ordered to pay the rest back, kept it, Dewey’s filing states.
Further, the memorandum reads, “Gagne charged a $1,250 fee for unnecessary work on a special needs trust and allowed a $110,000 loan from the 89-year-old man’s estate to fund the Bristol Beat radio station, which was primarily run by Gagne’s husband before it signed off the air in November 2017, court paper said. Dewey writes in her finding that Gagne listed the loan generically under “investment” and admitted she should have known it was a “bad investment.” The payment schedule for the loan was scheduled to last 10 years, despite the ward being 89 years old at the time, making it so that he “would never receive full benefit from the promissory note,” Dewey wrote.
Following civil litigation, prompted by the 89-year-old’s new conservator, New Britain-based attorney Stephen Mangan, who replaced Gagne, an agreement was reached in which Gagne, her insurer and the Bristol Beat would pay back the estate $108,000.
Additionally, Dewey writes in her finding, Gagne sold a property belonging to the 89-year-old man, which was initially valued at $120,000.
The property was appraised by someone recommended by the buyer, a man who was Gagne’s relative and former employer, and the value “dropped significantly,” court papers said. Gagne did not seek an independent appraisal before the sale, which was completed for $47,996.
Gagne and her husband later received a “finder’s fee” of $6,043, which came from profits the buyer made after he made refurbishments and sold the property, according to the memorandum.
This fee was not disclosed to the 89-year-old, his attorney or the Probate Court, the document continued.
The memorandum also says Gagne sold another property belonging to one of her ward’s, using the same appraiser, and received a $2,160 “finder’s fee.”
Dewey also made a finding that Gagne allowed one of her ward’s accounts to lapse into a negative balance, transferred money between her wards’ accounts, withdrew money from them and erroneously deposited money into the accounts.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.