Isle attorney disbarred
over $1M estate actions
The state Supreme Court disbarred Kaneohe attorney Robert A. Smith for a number of ethical violations stemming from his representation of an elderly client and her $1 million estate.
The high court said Smith had a conflict of interest when he made his longtime companion Paz Abastillas the trustee for the estate of Edith Kam.
Kam, who died in 2000 at age 96, "was in mental decline and subject to undue influence," and Smith took advantage of her condition by charging "unusually high" legal fees, the Supreme Court said.
Between 1995 and 1996, Smith billed Kam more than $152,000 for estate planning and other nonlegal services, according to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees lawyer conduct in Hawaii.
"Smith displayed a pattern of misconduct extending over a period of time," the high court said.
The 69-year-old Smith, who has practiced in Hawaii since 1975, could not be reached for comment.
The order, which goes into effect Sept. 29, prohibits Smith from accepting new clients and new retainers.
In a September 2003 report on the Kam matter, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel alleged Smith replaced Kam's son Cedric as the trustee of her assets, which were valued between $750,000 and $1.2 million. He eventually named Abastillas trustee of Kam's estate.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel also alleged that Smith improperly drafted a power of attorney document that allowed Abastillas to make gifts to herself with Kam's assets.
Kam's relatives are now contesting Abastillas' rights to serve as trustee.
"(Smith) was aware that his conduct was unethical but ... intentionally took advantage of a client in mental decline," according to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
The Supreme Court said its decision to disbar Smith was based on several factors, including his refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conflict.