The disabled brother-in-law of Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist filed formal charges Thursday with the State Bar of Arizona alleging that Rehnquist acted unethically in his handling of a family trust fund.
The complaint, filed as the Senate debates Rehnquist’s nomination as chief justice, charges Rehnquist with conflict of interest and failure to meet his legal duties to the bedridden relative. It says his conduct raises “serious questions of ethics and integrity.”
The relative, Harold Dickerson Cornell, 73, a former San Diego prosecutor disabled by multiple sclerosis, contends that Rehnquist joined other family members in concealing from him for two decades the existence of a trust fund established for him by his father shortly before the father’s death in 1961.
Married to Sister
Cornell maintains that Rehnquist had a conflict because he is married to Cornell’s sister, Natalie, who would have shared in the trust proceeds if Cornell had died before receiving the money.
Cornell also says Rehnquist and other relatives did not disclose the existence of the $25,000 trust until 1981, after he had lived in poverty for 20 years, though its terms required payments to him as soon as his standard of living fell below the level he maintained before his illness forced him to retire.
Cornell charges among other things that Rehnquist failed to disclose his conflict of interest to Cornell’s father, that he failed to investigate the absence of payments to Cornell by the trust or to disclose the fund’s existence to Cornell and that he failed to tell Cornell of a poor investment record for the trust.
Rehnquist has refused to comment on the allegations since their disclosure by The Times last month. The complaint was filed in Arizona because Rehnquist was practicing as a private attorney there when he handled the trust.
If Cornell’s complaint is upheld after an investigation, it could lead to Rehnquist’s censure, suspension or disbarment by the Arizona Bar.