Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Attorney ordered to pay $4.3M to trust

Attorney ordered to pay $4.3M to trust

NPR, UNICEF and others fought woman's behest to lawyer

A sign board gives directions to the office of UNICEF in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP file/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A sign board gives directions to the office of UNICEF in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP file/Gemunu Amarasinghe) The Associated Press
A judge who determined that an Encinitas lawyer manipulated his relationship with a wealthy and mentally ill woman who left her fortune to him has determined the lawyer must pay $4.3 million to the woman’s trust.
Superior Court Judge William Nevitt Jr. ordered that attorney Carl Dimeff make the payment in a tentative ruling issued on Dec. 23.
It’s the latest development in a long-running lawsuit filed by four prominent nonprofits, including NPR and Doctors Without Borders, over the estate of the late Siv Ljungwe, a longtime schoolteacher in Redlands who amassed a fortune in real estate and other investments before her death in 2010.
The charities argued that it was Ljungwe’s wish that her fortune be divided in equal parts among them, according to the terms of a 2004 trust she had drawn up.
They contended that a second trust made in 2008 that left all her money to Dimeff was invalid because the attorney had exerted improper influence on Ljungwe.
In court papers, Dimeff’s lawyers have said he did nothing improper, and that Ljungwe did exactly what she wanted to with her money when she decided he would inherit it all. Dimeff said he helped to shield her from a vindictive husband, and she was grateful for his help. In fact, the lawyers said, Dimeff was “truly surprised that she left him her entire estate.”
In a ruling in October and the one this month, Nevitt agreed with the charities, saying Dimeff is not credible and prepared the 2008 trust documents. The judge invalidated the 2008 trust, made when Ljungwe was suffering from mental illness and a bizarre fixation on Dimeff, an experienced estate lawyer.
Nevitt ordered Dimeff to provide an accounting of all the money and property in the trust for a second phase of the trial to determine how much he would have to pay back, including penalties and interest.
After several days of testimony in early December, Nevitt concluded the total Dimeff has to pay is $4.3 million. That includes $1.3 million in cash and securities he paid or transferred to himself. It also includes a penalty of $2.6 million, or twice the amount taken, and interest of $335,662.
Neither Dimeff nor his lawyers responded to a request Wednesday to comment on the ruling. Lawyers for the charities also did not respond this week.
In the tentative ruling, Nevitt said Dimeff’s accounting of what he did with the assets of the trust was “riddled with errors” and did not fully account for all the money.
For example, he found that some $520,000 in cash Dimeff paid to himself was not shown in his accounting for the court. Bank statements and other documents showed the transactions.


The judge faulted Dimeff for “concealing his dealings with Siv Ljungwe’s assets after her death through his erroneous and incomplete accounting.”
The ruling by Nevitt also appointed a new, permanent trustee for the estate. The assets will now presumably be divided under the terms of the 2004 trust, with funds going to the SDSU Research Foundation/KPBS and UNICEF, as well as NPR and Doctors Without Borders.

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