BANGING THE GAVEL: Judge Colleen Sterne found attorney John LeBouef lacking in credibility.
Paul Wellman

Los Angeles attorney John F. LeBouef got nowhere fast with the Second District Court of Appeal, which emphatically upheld Santa Barbara Judge Colleen Stern’s ruling that LeBouef improperly enriched himself by changing the will of an addled, depressed, alcoholic elderly client ​— ​John A. Patton ​— ​to have himself named beneficiary of Patton’s $5 million estate. Stern also ordered LeBouef to pay $1.2 million in attorney’s fees incurred by two of Patton’s nieces who successfully challenged the validity of Patton’s will in court.

Throughout the five-week trial over which she presided in 2012, Sterne repeatedly found La Bouef’s testimony lacking in credibility. She opined at one point, “The aroma of mendacity permeated this matter.” LeBouef appealed Sterne’s ruling, contending she improperly considered evidence of two prior cases in which LeBouef and his partner were implicated in what opposing counsel described as “serial inheritance” schemes. (Attorneys for the nieces sought to provide evidence of eight such ventures.) The Court of Appeal found Sterne acted properly in admitting the evidence.

Patton died in Santa Barbara ​— ​where he had retired ​— ​in 2011, having been an interior decorator of some renown throughout Los Angeles and Southern California. He was also a noted collector of antique automobiles, old gas pumps, car advertisements, and other assorted “petroliana.” But when his longtime partner, Leo Duval, died in 2004, Patton descended into a downward spiral from which he never pulled out. “He was 73 years old, in poor health, and suffering from depression, alcohol abuse, hepatitis, diabetes, high blood pressure, gout, and incontinence,” stated the appeal court ruling. In his last six months, Patton was more drunk than sober and, according to neighbors, “would howl like a dog.” He fell down frequently.

LeBouef had known Patton socially in Los Angeles since the 1980s. After Duval died, LeBouef started visiting Patton again. Patton complained to friends that he thought LeBouef was “overbearing.” In December 2006, LeBouef wrote out a will for Patton. Patton died unexpectedly, Sterne observed. On the day of Patton’s death, according to Sterne, LeBouef spent hours in Patton’s house before notifying 9-1-1. Sterne found it probable LeBouef spent that time altering Patton’s 2006 will to make himself the beneficiary. LeBouef steadfastly denied doing so, but a forensic-documents expert concluded that Patton’s signature had been forged on the later will.

Patton’s relatives wasted little time challenging LeBouef and demanded to see the original 2006 will. Only days before that document was scheduled to be turned over for forensic examination by Patton’s nieces, LeBouef reported Patton’s home had been burglarized. The will ​— ​as well as LeBouef’s laptop ​— ​were missing. Detectives found that the house appeared to have been ransacked with every cupboard and drawer open, while expensive-looking watches and artwork were left untouched. Sterne said the loss of the original will was “intentional” and described the burglary as “very peculiar.” She noted that a “handful of random items were taken,” including documents “that just happened to include the items necessary to a full understanding of the facts of this matter.”

Further fueling Sterne’s skepticism was LeBouef’s testimony about his alleged marriage in 1999 to 83-year-old Irene Grant, for whom he had successfully secured a $2.5 million inheritance from a man for whom Grant served as caretaker. After getting her the money, LeBouef married Grant. On the witness stand, LeBouef testified he and Grant had had an “unspecified” number of children together, all of whom had died, though he declined to say how. During his 2012 testimony, LeBouef insisted he and Grant were still married. It would later emerge she had died six years prior.

LeBouef, now 74, is reportedly retired from his legal practice. His attorney, Michael Ring, declined to comment, explaining he had not discussed the ruling with his client yet. The Court of Appeal judges directed their clerk to send a copy of their opinion to the California State Bar and the Santa Barbara District Attorney. “We express no opinion on discipline,” they wrote, “and/or the decision to initiate criminal charges.”


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