Thor’s Hammer: California Attorney Facing Disbarment After Marrying Elderly Client and Allegedly Misappropriating His Money

The State Bar of California is seeking the disbarment of Linda Nell Lowney, 54, an attorney accused of taking advantage of an ailing and elderly client thirty years her senior. Lowney was the attorney for Thor Tollefsen in handling his estate planning. However, she switched from Thor’s hammer to his hubby in 2006. Thor’s relatives in Norway allege that Lowney proceeded to take his money and effectively abandon him. He died later in a nursing home. The bar investigators agreed and recommended disbarment.

Lowney was hired in 2002 to prepare a pour-over will and a revocable trust that distributed Tollefsen’s property upon his death. His estate was valued at between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000. Tollefsen named his sister, Solveig Bergsaker, as beneficiary, and if she did not survive him, her children Elisabeth and Anne Bergsaker, who were also designated as successor co-trustees.

The bar report below appears skeptical from the outset about whether Lowney was in love with Thor or his money. At the time, he was 81 years old, suffering from emphysema and terminal cancer, and using a walker. The bar noted “[b]y August 2005, Tollefsen and Lowney had become romantically involved despite the 30-year age difference and Tollefsen’s deteriorating health. Around this time, Lowney promised Tollefsen she would take care of him.”

The relatives accused Lowney of abandoning Tollefsen. The Bar made the following finding:

Near the end of 2005, Lowney told Tollefsen she wanted to get married. He agreed. But Lowney did not want her minor daughter or the Bergsakers to find out and suggested a confidential marriage. Lowney and Tollefsen filled out the confidential marriage license application, which required that the applicants had been living together. Under penalty of perjury, Lowney and Tollefsen falsely stated they were living together and filed the application. They were married under a confidential license that was issued to them on January 23, 2006.
By the fall of 2006, Tollefsen told his relatives in Norway that he was “fed up” with Lowney because he could not reach her and she did not take care of him as she had promised. In early January 2007, Tollefsen moved into a senior care facility.
On January 26, 2007, Lowney brought Tollefsen to his home for the weekend. The next day, he did not appear well and Lowney called an ambulance. She followed the ambulance to the emergency room but did not stay, claiming Tollefsen told her to go home. Lowney was not present when Tollefsen died the following day.

At his death, Lowney still held the remainder of $340,000 in funds that he had transferred to her in August 2005 with the expectation that she would use the money to pay for his care. Lowney insisted that the money had been given to her as his girlfriend, not as his attorney. The bar investigators disagreed and found that she had been entrusted with the money as a fiduciary, as Tollefsen’s attorney. She was therefore found to have committed an act of moral turpitude by misappropriating the funds, among other misconduct. The bar also found that she lacked remorse for her misconduct.

The hearing judge correctly found that Lowney “displayed indifference to her misconduct . . . [and] she does not appreciate the seriousness of her misconduct.” Lowney has not acknowledged that filing a false document in a public office constitutes attorney misconduct. Instead, she argues that the law should not apply. And she views herself as the victim in these proceedings despite depriving the Bergsakers of their rightful inheritance for nearly four years. While Lowney need not be falsely penitent, the law “does require that [she] accept responsibility for [her] acts and come to grips with [her] culpability. [Citation.]” (In the Matter of Katz (Review Dept. 1991) 1 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 502, 511.) We assign substantial weight to this factor because it demonstrates that Lowney does not understand that her conduct is wrong, making her a danger to the public.

The record could not therefore be worse for Lowney who was described by the hearing officer as “heartless and egregious.”

What is fascinating about the case is the underlying skepticism over the marriage and how that influenced the ruling on the fiduciary element. The “confidential marriage” was clearly viewed as opportunistic and insincere. However, would the bar have reached the same conclusion on the money if they viewed the marriage as sincere? The bar investigators reached their conclusions by rejecting the factual claims of Lowney as to the purpose of these transfers as based on the personal rather than the legal relationship that she had with her husband.

Another interesting question is why, if the bar report is correct, Lowney was not charged with a crime of fraud, abuse of the elderly, or some other offense.

What do you think? If you agree with the factual findings, would you recommend disbarment as opposed to a less sanction?

Here is the opinion: Lowney

Source: ABA Journal

8 thoughts on “Thor’s Hammer: California Attorney Facing Disbarment After Marrying Elderly Client and Allegedly Misappropriating His Money”

  1. I have come to know this woman in the last year, and she relates this story a bit differently than what’s being said by other sources. She still doesn’t get it. She blames this supposed husband, saying it was his idea to marry secretly and that it was his wishes that they not live under the same roof once married. She still thinks she did nothing wrong, and she blames his family for her legal troubles and being disbarred. She still thinks that she has some sort of right to the money she took from this estate, and told me that it was his wishes she take the money. If these two really loved each other, why would they need to marry in secret. His family lives in a different country, and her family members are a non-issue in relation to her marriage of this one time client. Also troubling is the fact that she’d taken him home, then he has complications, she drops him off at a hospital, she leaves, he dies, and then she has him cremated, which was against his known wishes. That’s just too suspicious! Could it be possible that she was getting rid of evidence????

  2. Well, at least she didn’t violate the sanctity of marriage by trying to marry another woman…

  3. The bar investigators agreed and recommended disbarment.

  4. Since she doesn’t “get” what she did wrong, disbarment seems to be the right choice. Criminal prosecution should be considered. Too many criminal lawyers out there who need to be reined in.

  5. Gives new meaning to “otherly love” in the Mothers lyrics:

    Motherly love
    Motherly love
    Forget about
    The brotherly and other-ly love
    Motherly love
    Is just the thing for you
    You know your Mothers’ gonna love ya
    Till ya don’t know what to do

    (Motherly Love).

  6. A person who becomes a fiduciary cannot marry the person for whom the trust is deposited. There needs to be an accounting of the money from at least the date of the trust. A penny spent and not spent on old guy is a penny owed by numnuts. She owes a very high standard of reporting and accounting. A marriage done in secrecy between a ward and her trustee is itself a breach of fiduciary duty because the trustee has entered into ownership of the corpus entrusted to her. She cannot marry old guy–plain and simple. Disbar is an easy decision. The decision to prosecute can be made after the accounting is concluded. A grand jury should be called, an audit required, auditor to report to the grand jury, if a penny is ill gotten an indictment should be had for misdemeanor if the amount is below the felony threshold for misappropriation or theft and felony if one penny over the threshold. Because she was fiiduciary before the wedding, she cannot take anything from him other than money charged and acknowledge by him in his lifetime to be a fee for services. That does not include porking.
    Just A Dog Talkin who in prior life was a Trustee and not a prison Trustee.

    Which takes us to the next point in this thief’s life. When in prison she should be disbarred from being a Trustee.

    This should be the subject of a television show.

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