STATE OF NEBRASKA EX REL. COUNSEL FOR DISCIPLINE OF THE NEBRASKA SUPREME COURT, RELATOR,
RALPH E. PEPPARD, RESPONDENT
HEAVICAN, C.J., WRIGHT, CONNOLLY, McCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, and CASSEL, JJ.
This case is before the court on the conditional admission filed by Ralph E. Peppard, respondent, on August 31, 2015. The court accepts respondent's conditional admission and enters an order of public reprimand.
Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in the State of Nebraska on September 22, 1980. At all relevant times, he was engaged in the private practice of law in Omaha, Nebraska.
On April 21, 2015, the Counsel for Discipline of the Nebraska Supreme Court filed formal charges against respondent. The formal charges consist of one count against respondent. With respect to the one count, the formal charges generally allege that respondent simultaneously represented parties who had conflicting and adverse interests in the same or similar transaction, as noted by the Court of Appeals [291 Neb. 949] in In re Estate of Morrell, 22 Neb.App. 384, 853 N.W.2d 525 (2014). The formal charges state that in 2009, Johanna Morrell began showing early signs of dementia, and on September 13, 2010, Morrell executed a will drafted by an independent attorney leaving her entire estate to her surviving siblings. On October 28, Lee Lorenz filed a petition for appointment of
guardian-conservator, requesting that he be appointed guardian-conservator for Morrell. The petition was prepared and submitted by respondent. The formal charges state that respondent stated that he represented Morrell in this proceeding.
On the same day, October 28, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services, Adult Protective Services (the Department), also filed a petition for appointment of guardian-conservator based upon its investigation regarding Morrell's finances being taken advantage of and her inability to protect herself. The Department requested that Mark Malousek, an attorney, be appointed as Morrell's guardian-conservator. The Department also filed an objection to Lorenz' petition that he be appointed Morrell's guardian-conservator, because the Department was investigating Lorenz for financial exploitation of Morrell. The formal charges state that respondent stated that he represented Lorenz in the Department's investigation. Malousek was appointed temporary guardian-conservator for Morrell on October 28, and he was appointed permanent guardian-conservator in April 2011.
On March 11, 2011, Morrell executed a new will drafted by respondent which left her entire estate to Lorenz.
In January 2012, Morrell passed away. Following her death, Morrell's surviving family members and Lorenz separately filed petitions for probate of the respective September 2010 and March 2011 wills. According to the formal charges, the probate court held separate hearings and determined that Morrell lacked capacity and was subjected to undue influence by Lorenz. In its first order, the court stated that the March 2011 will was invalid and of no force and effect, and then the [291 Neb. 950] court issued a second order that the September 2010 will was validly executed and allowed to be probated.
At the hearings for probating the September 2010 and March 2011 wills, Malousek submitted an affidavit stating that at no time did respondent contact him regarding a new will in 2011, nor did Malousek give consent or authority to participate in any way in the drafting of any will during the entire time he was temporary or permanent guardian-conservator.
Respondent submitted his own affidavit in the probate matter which, according to the formal charges, basically stated the facts as set forth above. Respondent indicated that he represented Morrell in the initial guardian-conservator proceeding. Respondent also stated that he represented Lorenz in a meeting with the Department regarding allegations Lorenz was taking advantage of Morrell as a vulnerable adult and ...