California lawyer who inherited client's wealth ordered to pay charities

By Marty Graham

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A judge has ordered a California lawyer to pay four prominent non-profit groups, including Doctors Without Borders, a total of $4.3 million for using "undue influence" in arranging to inherit money a client originally meant to leave for charity.

The ruling last week by San Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt capped a four-year fight over the estate of Siv Ljungwe, a retired California schoolteacher who, with her husband, had accumulated real estate worth millions of dollars.

The judgment against her San Diego-area lawyer, Carl Dimeff, is to be shared evenly by Doctors without Borders, the National Public Radio Foundation, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the San Diego State University-based public television channel KPBS in accordance with Ljungwe’s 2004 trust.

Dimeff told Reuters on Thursday he would appeal against the ruling, saying he did not know Ljungwe had shifted her assets to him until after her death. He said he distributed $400,000 to the charities while settling the estate.

The 35-page judgment against Dimeff, first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday, was issued Dec. 23.

According to court documents, Dimeff and his wife, also an attorney, began managing Ljungwe's assets in 2004, including money she placed in a trust designating the four charities as beneficiaries upon her death.

The judgment found that, between 2004 and 2008, Ljungwe grew romantically obsessed with Dimeff and began signing trust documents that moved her assets and control of her estate to Dimeff and his wife.

“If Siv had not been delusional about Carl ... she would not have left him her estate,” Nevitt ruled. “A mentally healthy Siv would not have left her estate, worth millions of dollars, to Carl, a lawyer she randomly met and hired in 2004.”

(Editing by Chris Michaud and Paul Tait)