Ellsworth lawyer criminally indicted for alleged theft from deceased client

Christopher Whalley, who was disbarred in December 2022, is charged with theft by misapplication.
The frame that once held the sign for the law offices of Christopher James Whalley.
The exterior of Christopher Whalley's Ellsworth law firm, including posts that once held the law firm's sign. Photo by Kate Cough.

A Hancock County grand jury handed down a criminal indictment Feb. 9 against disbarred Ellsworth attorney Christopher Whalley accusing him of stealing from a deceased client’s estate. 

Whalley is charged with felony theft by misapplication, which is a Class B crime, according to Danna Hayes, a spokeswoman with the Office of the Maine Attorney General which is prosecuting the case. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $20,000 as well as restitution. 

Christopher James Whalley sits at his desk as he prepares to write on a notepad
Christopher Whalley.

“The state alleges that Mr. Whalley, acting in his capacity as an attorney and as personal representative of the estate of a late client, stole funds from the estate between 2018 and 2021,” Hayes wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday to The Maine Monitor.

A phone call seeking comment from Whalley about the charges was not returned Wednesday by the time of publication. His attorney, Walter McKee, said Whalley had repaid the money with interest.

Whalley had been appointed by the Washington County Probate Court to oversee the sale and disbursement of the estate of Wilbur Knudsen, a Milbridge man who died in October 2018. 

Knudsen left in his will eight gifts of $10,000 apiece to family members, friends and a local animal shelter. The remainder of his estate was to be sold and divided between two grandchildren, which included setting up a trust to help one grandchild pay for college. Whalley appears to have instead written multiple checks to his bank accounts worth more than half of the approximately $378,000 estate, The Maine Monitor reported in December.

Kelly Coburn, Knudsen’s step-daughter who lives in Rhode Island, said she and her children were paid only part of the money they should have received from Whalley and the estate.

“He stole from my kids and it’s sad because it’s not like we’re wealthy. We were counting on that,” Coburn told The Monitor in January. 

News of the indictment was first reported Wednesday by the Bangor Daily News.

Whalley was disbarred in December 2022 and cannot practice law for at least 10 years, following a disciplinary investigation by the state’s Board of Overseers of the Bar into his handling of Knudsen’s estate. 

McKee, an Augusta defense lawyer, represented Whalley during the state investigation and is representing him in the criminal case. McKee said Whalley has repaid the money to the estate plus interest.

Whalley’s license to practice law was previously suspended in 2003, 2007 and 2021 for professional misconduct. While Whalley was still on probation, the board of overseers requested and was granted by the court in February 2022 Whalley’s immediate suspension while it investigated his actions involving the estate.

Do you have a story about wills, estates, or Maine’s probate courts? Please contact reporter Samantha Hogan by email: samantha@themainemonitor.org.

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Samantha Hogan

Samantha Hogan focuses on government accountability projects for The Maine Monitor. She joined the newsroom as its first full-time reporter in 2019 with Report for America. Samantha was named the 2021 Maine’s Journalist of the Year by the Maine Press Association, and spent 2020 reporting on Maine’s court system through the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Her reporting on county jails recording and listening to attorney-client phone calls won the Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association and was also a semi-finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2023. Samantha previously worked for The Frederick News-Post and interned twice for The Washington Post.
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