BOWLING GREEN - Patricia Sanders and Kay Krueger are satisfied with the six-month jail sentence their former attorney received for stealing nearly $70,000 from their aunt's estate.
But they said it's tough for them to trust lawyers now.
“It'll take a while,” Ms. Sanders said after Patricia Crowley was sentenced yesterday in Wood County Common Pleas Court.
Ms. Krueger said she would advise anyone who hires an attorney to “just be very careful and observant of what they're doing.”
Crowley, 43, pleaded guilty in August to one count of theft and three counts of forgery after admitting she stole $69,000 from the estate of Violet Simpson and forged three signatures on documents relating to the estate. She forfeited her Ohio law license last year and moved to Naples, Fla., putting an end to a long-standing, successful family law practice in Bowling Green.
Yesterday, Judge Reeve Kelsey ordered Crowley to spend 180 days in the Wood County jail beginning Monday but said she would be eligible for the work-release program, which means she can leave the jail to work full time and then return to the jail after work.
Her attorney, Peter Halleck, said Crowley had “three different employment opportunities” but did not say what those were. Judge Kelsey said she could not work for a family member and must have a job with a specific focus and specific hours.
Judge Kelsey ordered Crowley to spend three years on community control, perform 400 hours of community service in Wood County, pay court costs, and pay any taxes, penalties, and interest that may yet arise from her mishandling of the Simpson estate. Crowley may not apply for reinstatement of her law license in any state during her three-year period of probation.
As part of the plea agreement worked out with special prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh of Defiance County, Judge Kelsey dismissed three additional counts of forgery. Mr. Strausbaugh said he was satisfied with the conclusion of the case, which began six years ago when Mrs. Simpson died and Crowley was hired to handle the Bowling Green widow's estate.
“I was pleased with the judge's sentence. That was what we had recommended,” he said afterward.
Before the sentence was imposed, Crowley gave a brief and tearful apology.
“I understand the family's distress,” she said. “I dishonored myself, my family, my friends, and my profession, and I'm truly sorry.”
Her husband and a family friend attended the sentencing. Absent were her father, retired Bowling Green attorney Patrick Crowley, and her sister and former law partner, Michaelle Crowley, who was suspended from practicing law by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1996 after she admitted to misleading and lying to clients. Both now live in Florida.
Neither side presented witnesses yesterday, although Mr. Halleck told the court there were “literally hundreds of people who desired to speak on Patricia's behalf.”
“I can assure the court that Trish has suffered greatly and is certainly saddened by her own actions and has clearly admitted responsibility for those actions,” he said. “To date, she has lost her right to practice law. She has clearly disgraced herself and her family and stands here today a person who will spend the rest of her life trying to right this wrong.”
Mr. Strausbaugh said that while Crowley had repaid the estate slightly more than $74,000, including additional attorney and executor fees that resulted, she cannot restore the trust Mrs. Simpson's family members had placed in her.
“This isn't just a case about theft of money and forgery,” he said. “This is a case of breach of trust as much as anything - breach of trust to her clients and breach of trust to the profession she had chosen to undertake.”
Mrs. Simpson's nieces reported suspected problems with the estate to Bowling Green police last year after discrepancies arose with the way their aunt's money was being appropriated. Mrs. Simpson had left $250,000 to the city parks and recreation department to build a shelter house at City Park, but the city built a restroom and in-line skating rink instead.
Crowley, who was indicted by a Wood County grand jury in December, 2000, could have faced up to 17 months in prison for theft and up to 11 months in prison for each count of forgery. She declined to comment after the hearing.