Department of Justice leads prosecution
Forest Grove attorney Robert Browning pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges he improperly took more than $80,000 from his aging mother and mother-in-law after they had granted him power of attorney.
Browning is well known in Washington County. He has practiced law for 33 years and served as municipal court judge in the cities of North Plains and Gaston. He pleaded no contest to 13 counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment.
The Oregon Department of Justice led the prosecution.
The case raises thorny questions about how society can protect older adults from financial exploitation. Browning had unfettered access to his mother’s and mother-in-law’s savings and investment accounts thanks to his power of attorney, which they’d granted him in 2005.
Advocates often encourage older persons to plan for the possibility of incapacity through various legal strategies, including the granting of power of attorney (POA) to someone they trust. But cases of financial abuse have become so common, some advocates for older Americans now call POAs a “license to steal.”
Browning’s mother-in-law died penniless in 2010 after Browning had systematically transferred all of her assets to himself. She was $50,000 in arrears to the care facility in which she lived.
“In a nation that is rapidly aging, it’s important to remember how susceptible older adults are to financial exploitation,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “This case illustrates just how crucial it is to make the right choice when entrusting someone with fiduciary authority over your assets.”
The Oregon Department of Justice got involved in the case at the request of the Washington County District Attorney. One of the primary roles of the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Section is to assist District Attorneys in prosecuting the most difficult, complex cases.
A Washington County Grand Jury indicted Browning in September 2012. The trial was set to begin Tuesday. Just minutes away from opening arguments, Browning changed his plea to no contest to all 13 counts (a no-contest plea results in a conviction of the crime.)
Sentencing is scheduled for May 31.
Attorney General Rosenblum thanked staffers at the Criminal Justice Section, in particular Assistant Attorney General Matt McCauley, for their work on the case.
Jeff D. Manning, email@example.com, 503-378-6002