Dorothy Jackson, the attorney and East Baton Rouge Council on Aging board member who has come under fire for her involvement in drafting a now-controversial will for a COA client in 2016, has been placed on administrative leave by the Southern University Law Center, where she is an associate clinical professor for the Elder Law Clinic.
A spokesman for the university says Jackson was placed on administrative leave April 20. He was unable to provide details about why she was placed on leave because of privacy rules surrounding personnel matters.
Jackson could not be reached for comment.
It is unclear whether the university’s actions against Jackson are related to her involvement in drafting the will of COA client Helen Plummer in the summer of 2016.
Jackson drafted the will for Plummer, who is since deceased, through the SULC clinic, according to a letter the COA sent to the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs earlier this month. As has been previously reported, that will placed COA Executive Director Tasha Clark-Amar in charge of overseeing Plummer’s estate and trust, a duty for which she was to be paid some $500 per month for 20 years.
But when Plummer’s relatives found out about the will, they accused Clark-Amar of coercing the 95-year-old woman to draft the document against her wishes and tried to block Clark-Amar’s access to the assets, which resulted in a lawsuit that found its way into local media headlines. Clark-Amar, already in the spotlight for various controversies at the COA, has since stepped down as administrator of the estate and trust.
While much of the attention surrounding the controversy has centered on Clark-Amar, less focus has been given to Jackson’s role, which legal experts say could pose a conflict of interest problem.
For instance, Jackson named herself attorney in the will, which was prepared by the SULC clinic and signed by two witnesses who are employees of the SULC. However, it lists Jackson’s personal address under her signature, instead of the law clinic’s address.
Court documents in the case also list $1,500 in attorney’s fees as an expense associated with the estate. State law is clear that all work for law clinics must be done pro bono, according to Loyola University Law Professor Dane Ciolino.
Observers say if an attorney is executing a will through a free law clinic but names himself or herself personally in the will and will be paid to probate the will at a later date, that could violate state ethics laws.
It has also come to light that shortly after Plummer’s death in March, Clark-Amar listed the late woman’s home at 535 Fall River Drive for sale with realtor Alvin Washington, who is also an attorney and a professor in the mediation law clinic at Southern.
The house has since been taken off the market, and Washington is no longer the listing agent. Earlier this week, he told Daily Report he is no longer involved with the estate, but he declined to say how he became involved with it in the first place and whether it was through his work at Southern.
“I’m not going to get into that because I really don’t like the way this is being portrayed,” Washington said.
When asked if Jackson had referred the listing to him, he said, “The lawyer doesn’t choose the listing agent. It’s the administrator of the will.”
Either way, LSU Law Center Professor Elizabeth Carter says the whole situation smacks of multiple potential conflicts of interest.
“Seeking or obtaining a pecuniary gain from a pro bono clinic could potentially run afoul of state ethics law,” she says.
Southern University Law Center Chancellor John Pierre says he cannot comment on the case.