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Lawyer disbarred in Maryland is suspended in Virginia

A lawyer who allowed grieving family members to forge a dying woman’s signature on estate planning documents has had his law license suspended for two and a half years by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board. The decision comes seven months after John M. Coppola was disbarred in Maryland for the same offenses.

Coppola, a Leesburg lawyer who was licensed in both states, prepared estate planning paperwork for a client who put off signing the papers. By the time Coppola was called to her hospital bedside, she was no longer competent to sign the documents.

Family members, appreciating the savings that would come from Coppola’s trust plan, begged him to let them forge their mother’s signature on the documents. Coppola ultimately did so, and then had his staff notarize the signatures.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, in a 5-to-2 decision, yanked Coppola’s license, despite a judge’s finding that the dishonest conduct was unlikely to recur.

The VSB discipline panel was somewhat more lenient. On Dec. 5, the board and Coppola agreed on a suspension for two years and six months.

By Peter Vieth

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