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Florence Welch lived a long life, had three husbands, and died with $3 million to her name. An Arlington, Va., resident, Welch had no close relatives who survived her, so she made plans in her original will to leave the bulk of her estate to charitable organizations that helped crippled children and elderly people stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. But by the time of her death in 2001, at age 104, the will was drastically different. A D.C. Bar ethics committee has now recommended that William Devaney Jr., an administrative law judge at the Federal Labor Relations Authority and Welch’s longtime neighbor and friend, be disbarred for using his legal skills to take over Welch’s estate. According to the committee’s report, Devaney manipulated the will to funnel millions to himself and his family. The 75-page report, made public Feb. 23, says Devaney’s conduct “shocks the conscience” and raises serious questions about the integrity of a sitting administrative law judge. “[T]he record in this case is permeated with the odor of dishonesty, hypocrisy, and craven greed,” D.C. lawyer Lee Helfrich wrote on behalf of the three-person ethics committee. “[Devaney's] misconduct represents the paradigm of what the public suspects, dislikes and distrusts most about the legal profession.” The 83-year-old Devaney claims that he was merely following Welch’s wishes when he and his wife changed the will, giving themselves power of attorney and their two sons a large share of the estate. In an interview last week, Devaney said he was unfairly targeted by people who had their own interests in getting money from Welch’s estate. He said he intends to appeal the committee’s recommendation. “I did absolutely nothing,” Devaney said. “I had absolutely no intention to take any part of Mrs. Welch’s money for any purpose. I did what she asked me to do. I didn’t go to her. She came to me and I was foolish enough to do it. I didn’t realize the impropriety of it.” Devaney says he was not acting as a lawyer seeking business, but as a longtime friend. In his written response to the D.C. Bar, Devaney acknowledges he violated an ethics rule barring D.C. lawyers from authoring contracts that give them “any substantial gift.” But Devaney recommended in his response that he deserves a public reprimand, not disbarment. Devaney faces three ethics violations: unauthorized practice of law, conflict of interest, and incompetent representation. Jill Krumpacker, a spokeswoman for the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which handles disputes involving federal unions, would not comment on the matter except to note that Devaney was still employed by the agency. “Our policy is that we don’t comment on personnel matters,” Krumpacker says. She would not say whether the judge is continuing to hear cases. Calls to FLRA Chairman Dale Cabaniss and Chief ALJ Eli Nash were referred to Krumpacker. Richard Pierce Jr., a professor at George Washington University Law School who has studied ALJs, says it is difficult to remove an administrative law judge. “It hasn’t happened very often,” says Pierce, noting that the Merit Systems Protection Board is the authority that oversees ALJs. “It’s about as hard as it is to remove a federal district judge.” One way to remove sitting administrative law judges is by taking away their license to practice law, since only licensed lawyers qualify to work as ALJs. If Devaney objects to the hearing committee report, he will have another chance to brief and argue his case before the nine-member D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility. If the board recommends disbarment, Devaney would have another chance before the D.C. Court of Appeals, which has the final say on lawyer disciplinary matters in the District. D.C. Bar officials say they keep no statistics on how often hearing committee reports are accepted or rejected by the board. Elizabeth Aman, who knew Florence Welch her entire life, says any action by the bar would still be just a “slap on the wrist” for Devaney. Aman, who called Welch “Aunt Florence” even though the two were not related, says she is still upset about not doing something to prevent this from happening. “She didn’t know what she was signing. I’m just convinced of that,” says Aman, who received $25,000 from the estate. “These are the stories you see on TV that you can’t believe.” CLOSE FRIENDS AND CARD GAMES Florence Welch lived practically next door to the Devaneys for almost 50 years. In his filings to the ethics committee, Devaney says he met Welch, known then as Florence Wierich, in 1953, shortly after he and his wife, Norma Lea, bought a home near Crystal City in Northern Virginia. At the time, Florence Wierich, who was much older than the Devaneys, was unmarried, but had been dating John Welch, a vice president of Southern Railroad. The two married in 1971 after dating nearly 20 years. Florence Welch was an accountant with the Smithsonian Institution and later the Agriculture Department. John was her third husband; the bar report says that her first marriage ended under “difficult circumstances” and that her second husband died. Welch never had children from any of her marriages, the bar report states. After 24 years in private practice, Devaney, who was a Steptoe & Johnson lawyer at the time, was named an ALJ for the Department of Labor in 1973. He moved to the FLRA in 1979. Devaney says the two families became close friends and played bridge on a regular basis for many years. It was at one of these card games in 1985 that John Welch first showed signs of Alzheimer’s, according to Devaney’s response to the ethics committee. As John Welch’s health deteriorated, Devaney says his wife, Norma Lea, was instrumental in 1988 in securing a spot for Welch at the Goodwin House nursing home. According to the ethics report, the judge began doing will-related legal work for the Welches in 1988. When John Welch died in 1990, Devaney served as executor of his will and was paid $5,900. Devaney did not have a license to practice law in Virginia. He told the ethics committee that he hadn’t done any probate work since becoming a judge, but that he took some continuing legal education classes on wills and estates in the mid-1980s. At the time of John Welch’s death, the bulk of the estate was intended for both the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Salvation Army. One month after John Welch’s death, bar ethics officials say, Devaney tried to amend the 1988 will to give all the money in a trust held at the American Security Bank to the executor, which at the time was Devaney. This amendment was signed by Florence Welch. Devaney says he told Welch that she needed to execute a new will. Welch didn’t turn turn to Devaney, but sought legal help from Annandale, Va., probate lawyer Dale Roberts, who was recommended by another neighbor of Welch’s. According to the bar report, the principal change made in 1990 was that a large portion of her estate would be donated to the Alzheimer’s Foundation. The Shriners Hospitals and the Salvation Army remained as beneficiaries of the sale of Welch’s home and other property. In 1993, Welch, who was 96 years old at the time, executed her last will and testament. In it, Devaney was named as executor and Roberts was named alternate executor. The next year, Welch fell and broke her hip while grocery shopping. While Welch was hospitalized, D.C. Bar officials say, Devaney and his wife drafted a power of attorney giving Devaney authority over all of Welch’s business affairs. Devaney, in his response to the hearing committee, said Welch “wanted to give a power of attorney to me and/or my wife.” Ethics officials say Welch signed this document the day she was transferred from the hospital to the nursing home. “It was fully understood that the Power of Attorney would be used only if Mrs. Welch were unable to act for herself,” Devaney wrote in his 2002 answer to the ethics charges. “Mrs. Welch was never unable to act for herself and, accordingly, the Power of Attorney was never used.” CHANGES AND CODICILS In May 1994, the Devaneys obtained Welch’s will from her safety deposit box at First American Bank. According to the bar report, Devaney then drafted a codicil to the will that increased the amount slated for his wife from $10,000 to $30,000. It also reduced and revoked some of the bequests to Welch’s friends. Devaney’s wife was also named alternate executor in place of Roberts. Welch signed the document while at the nursing home. Welch returned home in June 1994, though she needed around-the-clock care. Devaney’s wife hired nurses for Welch. In 1998, Devaney drafted a second codicil. This time, a trust valued at more than $1 million that was marked for the Alzheimer’s Foundation was to be turned over to the Devaneys’ two sons — both doctors in Ann Arbor, Mich., according to the bar report. The codicil also transferred more of Welch’s personal property to Devaney’s wife, who drove Welch to the bank to execute the document. In his response to the bar, Devaney says his actions were directed by Welch, whom he believed was of sound mind at the time. Devaney also said he told Welch that he and his wife didn’t need the money, but that if she insisted, then she should leave it to their sons. “I told her that if she deleted the charitable contribution (Alzheimer’s) that her Estate would have to pay a great deal more in taxes,” Devaney wrote. “She said she knew that but had given it long thought and had concluded that the government would use the taxes to help more people than a charity would.” Two years later, a third codicil was drafted by Devaney. This time, no portion of the estate would be given to the Alzheimer’s Foundation. The home and other property originally intended to go to the Shriners Hospitals and the Salvation Army, instead were to be turned over to the Devaneys. On June 20, 2000, Devaney’s wife came by Welch’s home to take the elderly woman to the bank to execute the most recent codicil, the bar report states. Devaney’s wife called Welch’s nurse into the room and said Welch had something to say. Joan Gilbreath, the nurse, later told lawyers in a deposition that Welch was hyperventilating and “seemed very agitated.” Welch then told Gilbreath that she had decided to give her entire estate to the Devaneys, according to the bar report. Gilbreath, who was never part of the will, eventually told Ann White, a neighbor and good friend of Welch’s, about what she had witnessed. White called Roberts, the attorney who drafted the first will. Roberts said he could do nothing unless contacted by Welch. White convinced Welch to call Roberts, who came by the house. The Devaneys were not present and no one at this meeting had a copy of the codicils. When Roberts asked Welch whether she had changed her 1993 will, Welch replied she had not, except to remove two beneficiaries who had died. Roberts quickly determined that Welch no longer had the mental capacity to execute a new will. In testimony before the hearing committee, he said there was a “marked decline” in Welch’s mental abilities since he had last seen her in 1993. She was unable to understand his questions or follow the conversation, Roberts said. In January 2001, Devaney’s wife wrote a $10,000 check to herself from one of Welch’s accounts. The check noted that the money was for “Annual Management and Tax Prep.” The money was not reported as income on the Devaneys’ tax returns, the bar report says. In testimony before the D.C. Bar committee, Devaney’s wife characterized the money as both a “gift” to her church and payment for managing Welch’s affairs over several years. One month later, the Adult Protective Services Program for Arlington County was notified about Welch and investigated the matter. It remains unclear who alerted protective services. After having Welch undergo a mental health exam, the social worker concluded that Welch suffered from dementia and that her mental state was likely impaired beginning five or six years prior to 2001. This social worker also told D.C. Bar officials that the Arlington county attorney had her draft a memo about Devaney’s actions to be sent as part of a complaint to the Virginia State Bar. That complaint was referred to the D.C. Bar from Virginia, given that Devaney did not have a Virginia license. Adult Protective Services also filed a request with Arlington County Circuit Court that a guardian be appointed. Devaney contested the guardianship petition, but was unsuccessful. Welch died in September 2001, just days after the court ruled her incompetent and appointed a guardian. She was 104 years old. Neighbor White and friend Aman hired Arlington, Va., lawyer Larry Suiters to challenge the codicils. Both women were to receive money under the 1993 will, but those benefits had been reduced or removed by the codicils. Suiters also represented the Alzheimer’s Foundation in the matter. In May 2002, the probate matter settled. Welch’s property would be distributed as directed by the 1993 will, with a few exceptions: Each of Devaney’s sons received $100,000, and Devaney’s wife was given $39,000 and a doll, and was allowed to keep the $10,000 she withdrew from Florence Welch’s account in early 2001. Suiters says he recovered about $2 million for the Alzheimer’s Foundation, and roughly $550,000 for the Shriners Hospitals and the Salvation Army. Devaney says he regrets getting involved with Welch’s personal affairs and insists he did nothing wrong: “I didn’t go about this to seek one penny from Mrs. Welch.”

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