SALEM — A Salem attorney has been suspended from practicing law for two months after agreeing not to contest allegations that he wrote himself into the will of a seriously ill Salem man, then also persuaded that man to loan him $15,000, money that was repaid only after a complaint to the state bar.
The sanction against Philip D. Moran, who is also a well-known spokesman on behalf of a Catholic organization that opposes abortion and gay marriage, takes effect next week and means he will have to shut down his Essex Street practice for two months, withdraw from any cases he has pending and refund any retainers paid by clients.
And while the former client, Michael Chandler, doesn't believe two months is long enough, he hopes that the suspension at least "sends a clear message to the legal community."
Chandler, now 60, first hired and paid Moran back in 2003 to prepare a will. He also agreed to give Moran both durable power of attorney and made him his health care proxy.
"I went to him because he specialized in estate planning," said Chandler, who has no children or other surviving close relatives.
Two years later, Chandler hired Moran again to help him obtain a grant for work on his home. As a "show of appreciation," he had Moran add a $15,000 bequest to the will he had drafted two years earlier.
But that, the Board of Bar Overseers found, was a violation of ethical rules that bar attorneys from both preparing and benefiting from a document if they are not related to the client.
Chandler, a lifelong Salem resident, once served as a legislative aide to longtime Salem Rep. Michael Ruane and is also a cousin of the late Judge Sam Zoll.
Despite those connections, Chandler had already been victimized by a lawyer once before.
A decade ago, Chandler hired his tenant, a lawyer named James Wager, to handle some of his legal matters.
Instead, Wager later admitted in court in 2004 that he forged Chandler's name on checks and pocketed money that should have gone to Chandler. He had done the same to other clients, which led to his indictment.
Wager, who tried to flee the state with his girlfriend, a dancer at Peabody's Cabaret Lounge, was convicted and disbarred, and Chandler was partially reimbursed by the state Client Security Board for the losses.
But Chandler, still reeling from the betrayal by Wager, trusted Moran, who had even invited him to his home to celebrate various holidays.
Chandler again turned to Moran in 2004 and 2005 for help in investing the recovered funds, as well as with an inventory of his assets.
Soon after that, Moran began asking Chandler for a $15,000 loan, according to the complaint against him.
Chandler initially turned him down, but Moran persisted. "He called me a bunch of times and said, 'Michael, I need the money,'" Chandler said.
When one of Chandler's investments, a certificate of deposit, matured in February 2009, Chandler relented.
"I felt bad for him, and I tried to help him out," Chandler said.
There was no paperwork for the loan, nor any agreement for interest or a repayment schedule, further violations of the ethical rules for lawyers, the BBO found.
The BBO found that Moran's conduct in borrowing money from Chandler also violated the ethical rules concerning financial dealings with clients.
It wasn't until 21/2 years later, and after Chandler filed a complaint with the BBO, that Moran repaid the loan, without interest.
Chandler now believes Moran never intended to repay the loan.
"He saw an opportunity," Chandler said. "I'm a good person, and he saw an opportunity to take advantage of that."
Chandler said he does not want what happened to him to happen to anyone else.
Moran has practiced law for 43 years.
Moran in August entered an agreement with the BBO in which he agreed not to contest the allegations.
He also agreed to take part in a continuing legal education course prior to having his license reinstated.
The BBO also cited a prior private admonition to Moran in 2005. In that case, another client had paid Moran $10,000 to assist in finding a lawyer to handle a matter in Florida, according to that admonition. When that case in Florida was settled, the settlement included language that awarded Moran a $90,000 fee. Moran and the client had no written fee agreement, another violation of the rules, the BBO found.
Moran, a longtime anti-abortion activist, also acts as legal counsel to a lobbying group called the Catholic Alliance, which has pushed for an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage. He has made numerous television appearances to discuss those issues and others concerning the Catholic church.
Moran could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.