Today’s New York Times carries a lenthy account of the alleged misdeeds of Brooke Astor’s former attorney, Francis X. Morrissey Jr. It seems that every time I run a story about Mr. Morrissey, I receive comments from friends and associates telling me what a great guy he is. I can only draw my conclusions from what I read (keeping in mind of course that our system of justice carries with it a cherished presumption of innocence) — and I am not too impressed. This article will help you to make up your own mind about Mr. Morrissey.
We are all taught in law school to avoid situations where clients may attempt to give us large sums of money or valuable property where we have done little or nothing to merit this. Mr. Morrissey has received huge gifts, bequests and lucrative appointments as executor from clients which total in the millions. While he was surely a "nice guy" to take his elderly clients to lunch, shows and to call on them on a regular basis, I cannot help but think back to sweet old Max Bialystock , as played by Zero Mostel in The Producers.
In 34 years practicing law, the only inheritance I ever received was from my parents. I would hardly expect any more than that — and I suspect that most of my brothers and sisters at the bar share this expectation. It is easy for a skilled counselor to ingratiate himself or herself with a lonely and elderly client and to profit by doing this. It is also unethical and just plain wrong. Those of us who try to play by the rules have a harder time gaining the trust of our clients so that we can serve them when these stories surface.
As for Ms. Astor’s son, recently indicted Anthony D. Marshall, new stories tell of a "flim flam" move he attempted with prosecutors which was truly too cute by twice. When asked to surrender his passport, he turned over one which had expired , claiming it was the only one he had. After being questioned about this by detectives (after they first checked federal passport records) he suddenly "discovered" a passport which had been issued to him in 2005.
With every turn, this case gets stranger and stranger. Stay tuned for details as they develop.