Longtime Vancouver attorney MarCine Miller Miles has resigned from the Washington State Bar Association after the association recommended that she be disbarred for allegedly taking advantage of an elderly, incapacitated client.
The association found that Miles, 74, altered the woman’s will and bequeathed $10,000 to herself. Miles denied wrongdoing.
Miles — who had practiced law in Washington since May 1979 — filed the resignation in lieu of discipline on April 12, according to official records. The resignation is permanent, and she must notify all other states in which she practices law of her changed status. The resignation could be treated as a disbarment by other jurisdictions, according to her resignation form.
A hearing officer for the association’s disciplinary board in January recommended that Miles be disbarred for violating several Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing officer found by a preponderance of the evidence that Miles engaged in a conflict of interest with a current client and misconduct, according to the board’s findings of fact and conclusions.
Final decisions on disbarment are the responsibility of the Washington state Supreme Court. Before the high court ruled on the recommendation, Miles submitted her resignation.
“I am aware of the alleged misconduct stated in disciplinary counsel’s statement, but rather than defend against the allegations, I wish to permanently resign from membership in the association,” Miles wrote in her resignation.
A phone message left at her practice, Miles & Miles, which she shares with her husband, William Miles, was not returned Wednesday afternoon. She was not at her office when a Columbian reporter stopped in.
“Ms. Miles denied the allegations against her. After 43 years serving the community, she has decided to resign rather than continue to defend against the allegations, because she’s at an age to retire, and she’s ready to retire,” Miles’ Seattle attorney, Rosemary Moore, said on her behalf. “She hopes to be involved and serve the community in other ways in the future.”
Miles testified at her disciplinary hearing in September that she and a client, Marie Mattson, considered each other to be family, and that is why the $10,000 gift was left to her, the board documents state. However, the board determined that to be untrue — Miles knew little personal information about Mattson, including where she grew up, the number of times she married and the name of her dog.
According to the hearing officer’s findings, Miles and her husband befriended Mattson after she married one of their friends in 1983. Miles later did legal work for Mattson, primarily estate planning. Miles drew up several wills and other estate planning documents for Mattson between October 1985 and May 2008. Starting in February 2002, Mattson’s niece was listed as her personal representative and attorney-in-fact.
Each time a document was prepared, Miles sent Mattson a bill, which she paid in full. During her disciplinary hearing, Miles testified that she charged Mattson at a family rate, but there was no indication of that on the bills, the hearing officer found.
By July 2010 and until her death in December 2013 at the age of 97, Mattson was in and out of hospice care. She suffered from dementia and was unable to remember her age, name or the date. She had trouble recognizing people whom she knew, and she experienced hallucinations, the board document states.
The document went on to say that on March 22, 2012, Mattson was diagnosed with pneumonia, and doctors expected she would die soon after. Miles prepared a codicil — an addition or supplement that explains, modifies or revokes a will or part of one — the following day. The codicil contained a bequest of $10,000 to Miles. It also revoked the May 2008 will and reinstated Mattson’s will from 1985. The witnesses to the codicil were two of Miles’ employees, and the notary was her husband, the board document said.
Miles testified that she went over the codicil with Mattson line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph and verified her understanding of it.
The board said Mattson did not have sufficient mental capacity to understand what she was signing, and it noted that Miles didn’t follow her previous practice of transmitting the new estate planning documents to Mattson’s niece. Nearly a year after the codicil was executed, Miles called Mattson’s niece and informed her of the changed will.
Mattson’s niece filed a grievance with the association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel in October 2013. About two months after the grievance was filed, Miles gave up her interest in the $10,000 bequest. Mattson’s niece also filed a petition in Clark County Superior Court to declare the codicil invalid, which it did in April 2014, according to the board.
“(Miles) acted intentionally. She knew that the (Rules of Professional Conduct) prohibited her from drafting a document that included a substantial gift to herself. That conduct violated practice norms and obstructed justice by taking court time and resources and burdening the legal system. There was serious injury to the legal system, the estate and the heirs who were required to expend large amounts of money, time and energy because of (Miles’) conduct,” the board wrote in its analysis.
With her resignation, Miles paid the association $5,250 and agreed to pay any additional costs or restitution that may be ordered by a review committee. In the board document, it states that the case connected to her resignation incurred $7,250.36 in attorney fees.
In an unrelated case filed in January in Clark County Superior Court, attorney Thomas Hackett filed a vulnerable adult protection order against Miles on behalf of a 94-year-old former client of Miles. The protection order, among other things, alleges that Miles purported to act as the woman’s attorney and agent under power of attorney after she was fired and continued contacting the woman after she was instructed not to verbally and in writing.
In a declaration from Hackett, he said he later learned after filing the case that Miles, who was no longer the client’s attorney, wrote a check to herself from the woman’s account in the amount of $4,657.11.
“I think what she did would warrant charges for exploitation of a vulnerable adult,” Hackett said in an interview Wednesday.
The case was set for a hearing Thursday, however, the parties reached an agreement for a payment for release of claims, Hackett said.
The settlement was reached, he said, because Miles resigned from the association, agreed to stop directly contacting his client and “won’t be able to victimize elderly people or former clients anymore.”
“Ms. Miles denies any liability or wrongdoing,” Moore said, adding that the agreement was reached for the sake of Miles’ former client.
According to Columbian archives, Miles earned her law degree from the University of Oklahoma and started her practice of law in 1971 in Oklahoma. She later moved to Vancouver and opened a private practice with her husband.
Miles sought election or appointment at least four times to the Clark County District Court bench, in 1986, 1994, 2001 and 2004. In 2006, she unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for county clerk, who is the elected custodian of Superior Court records.
Her other civic service includes the Clark College Board of Trustees, the Vancouver Salary Commission and the board of the League of Women Voters.
In 1985, she resigned in lieu of termination as a District Court magistrate after at least 1,800 traffic cases she heard were found to have been improperly handled.