An Ellsworth attorney has been suspended from practicing law after an investigation by license regulators showed he had improperly transferred about half of a client’s estate, about $189,000, into his own accounts over more than two years.

Investigators for the Board of Overseers of the Bar alleged that Christopher J. Whalley embezzled money from a dead person’s estate that he was hired to administer, made misleading and false statements about his conduct and refused to participate in the investigation.

On Feb. 17, Whalley was ordered by Superior Court Judge Ann Murray to immediately stop practicing law, close his law offices, cease advertising and hand over the keys and all client information to an outside firm, which will administer Whalley’s cases on his behalf during his suspension.

Murray found that Whalley’s alleged breaches of rules of professional conduct posed “imminent injury” to clients, the public and the administration of justice, necessitating the emergency order for him to stop practicing law, a drastic step.

Whalley did not return a message at his home in Ellsworth seeking an interview.

This is not Whalley’s first sanction.

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He was disciplined in 2021 in a separate case, in which he admitted to forging a client’s signature without her permission and then notarizing it as authentic in a divorce case. In 2003, he was sanctioned for dishonesty and mishandling client funds.

Since then, he has been reprimanded or disciplined three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2008, according to bar records.

In the 2021 incident, Whalley’s license to practice was suspended, but the punishment was withheld pending completion of terms set out by the bar decision, including obtaining a mental evaluation.

The suspension announced this week stems from complaints filed in 2019. After Whalley initially responded, the bar paused its investigation while he closed out the probate process and finished his work. But he did not continue to respond to bar inquiries, so investigators restarted their investigation last April.

During the process, Whalley did not provide the bar investigators with documents they requested. To obtain the records, the bar was granted a subpoena last month for bank accounts associated with his practice and for Whalley’s client file describing the estate case.

The bank transactions showed that Whalley wrote himself 47 checks totaling $189,375 – or half the value of the estate – between October 2019 and January 2021. He did not provide billing records to investigators to explain the charges.

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The bar investigators compared Whalley’s case file and the transfer records, alleging he did not perform any work on behalf of his clients for three months in the summer of 2019, but paid himself $69,000 from the client funds. It’s unknown what portion of all the transfers may have been legitimate payment for work he performed.

Investigators allege that the payments do not make sense. The estate he was hired to administer was straightforward. The deceased person’s will made a few monetary and property bequests and directed the remainder of the estate, including a home, to be split between two beneficiaries.

Whalley was hired in October 2018, but the estate case remains open today, the decision said.

The suspension will remain in effect until the case is fully adjudicated through the bar complaint process.


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