By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A local lawyer stripped of his license after stealing money from a deceased relative’s estate faces the possibility of permanent disbarment.
Richard Hayes, 61, who pleaded guilty in January to stealing more than $250,000 from two family trusts after his mother-in-law died, had his lawyer’s license suspended Feb. 25, shortly after the criminal case was resolved.
Hayes received a 21/2-year suspended jail sentence and five years probation under a plea agreement in Salem Superior Court.
The matter was then referred to the state Board of Bar Overseers for further action. The board recommended disbarment to the Supreme Judicial Court, which held a hearing on the matter yesterday.
Constance Vecchione, a lawyer for the Office of the Bar Counsel, said the Board of Bar Overseers typically recommends disbarment for a lawyer found guilty of stealing from a client without making full restitution. She said the court usually announces its ruling on disbarment cases a few weeks after the hearing.
If Hayes is disbarred, he has the right to seek reinstatement of his lawyer’s license in eight years, Vecchione said. She was unsure how any plea agreements Hayes made in the criminal case could effect his right to seek reinstatement in the future.
In the criminal case, Hayes admitted that for months after the 2009 death of his mother-in-law at age 88, he continued to take monthly $24,000 disbursements from two family trusts, without telling the bank that held those trusts that the elderly woman had died. He also did not tell his own family that the power of attorney he had been granted expired when the beneficiary of the trust died. Family members said the total loss was $262,000.
In court, prosecutor Jennifer Kirshenbaum said Hayes continued “stonewalling” family members who were urging him to begin probate proceedings for the estate of Margaret “Peggy” Clark.
Kirshenbaum said money from the trusts went into Hayes’ law firm and client accounts, as well as toward general expenses.
Under the prior suspension order, Hayes was required to withdraw from all legal cases, notify any clients and refund part of any fees paid in advance that have not been earned. He also was ordered to close any bank accounts related to client business and return any client funds in his control.
Hayes also agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a civil lawsuit brought by three of Clark’s four surviving children — Eben Clark, Margaret Towle and Betsy Clark.