Torrington Lawyer Suspended Over Handling Of Paralegal's Will

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Zbigniew Rozbicki's behavior, the judge trial referee wrote, 'indicates an intentional manipulation of the estate for his own benefit.'

The chain of events that led to the two-year suspension of a Torrington attorney's law license started back in 1969, when he hired a former high school classmate to work as a paralegal in his Torrington law firm.

As Zbigniew Rozbicki's general practice firm grew, so did his friendship with Kathleen Gisselbrecht. They took trips together and she helped Rozbicki by caring for his pets when he traveled. She also picked up his son from school. When Gisselbrecht needed help with a down payment for a house, Rozbicki gave his employee a $20,000 loan. He also represented her in at least one legal matter.

When Gisselbrecht died of cancer in 2007, Rozbicki says he was surprised to learn that he had been named the executor of her will. A contentious court fight soon erupted between Gisselbrecht's relatives and Rozbicki over his handling of his former paralegal's estate.

"The hard feelings started because she named me to be the executor instead of one of them," said Rozbicki, who is 70. "They were angry because she trusted me more than she trusted them."

Gisselbrecht's estate matters were not complicated, as far as wills go. She had a house worth about $100,000, some small retirement accounts and a life insurance policy of $100,000. She also had a cash settlement from a 2006 slip-and-fall lawsuit in the amount of $140,000 sitting in a bank. When the seven survivors listed as beneficiaries learned that Rozbicki was going to charge the estate $40,000 for his legal fees in handling that settlement, in addition to taking the $20,000 as repayment of his loan to Gisselbrecht, the hard feelings were exacerbated.

A civil lawsuit was filed against Rozbicki seeking his return of the loan money; the matter was later dismissed when Rozbicki returned the $20,000. But a series of grievances against Rozbicki followed. The first was dismissed, but subsequent complaints by Gisselbrecht's family resulted in a three-day hearing.

Earlier this month, a judge trial referee found that Rozbicki's actions put his own interests over those he was appointed to represent. In doing so, Rozbicki was judged to have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct in several ways.

First of all, the judge trial referee found Rozbicki had misappropriated the $20,000 by taking back the money without court approval.

Secondly, Judge Trial Referee Thomas F. Uspon wrote, "Attorney Rozbicki engaged in rude, harassing and hostile conduct toward the beneficiaries," meaning Gisselbracht's family. Much of that behavior was exhibited during depositions and hearings in the probate case. Rozbicki accused Gisselbrecht's sister and brother of lying and altering the will after she had died.

Rozbicki's behavior, Upson wrote, "indicates an intentional manipulation of the estate for his own benefit."

Rozbicki insisted he did nothing wrong, arguing that he was looking out for the best interests of his long-time employee and friend. "These people never gave her anything," he told the Law Tribune last week. "Who was the one who helped her buy a house? I was."

'Personal Involvement'

In deciding punishment, Upson said Rozbicki's pattern of behavior was serious enough to warrant suspension. He suspended Rozbicki from the practice of law for two years.

Although Rozbicki will not be required to apply for readmission to the bar after that suspension, he will have to pass a Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam before returning to practice.

Suzanne Sutton, the assistant disciplinary counsel who pursued the grievance case for the state, said Rozbicki's mistep was getting too personally involved in a legal matter. "As soon as your personal involvement overrides the best interest of your client, or in this case, your fiduciary duties, you need to get out of the case," Sutton said.

She said attorneys must maintain an objective position when handling all legal matters. Although Rozbicki didn't violate any rules by loaning his employee money or handling her slip and fall case, said Sutton, he failed in his professional duty to the beneficiaries of her will.

"This is a serious offense," she said.

Rozbicki said he has appealed the decision denying him the $20,000. He also intends to appeal the disciplinary action. "This is ridiculous," he said. "I didn't take anything I wasn't entitled to."

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