Since a 2010 World-Herald investigation revealed shortcomings in the court oversight of wards, authorities have scrutinized the guardians, lawyers, even judges who failed to protect the finances of people who can't protect themselves.
Now a lawsuit is targeting another cog in the preservation of a ward's assets: the bank.
An Omaha attorney has filed a lawsuit against First National Bank for allowing a couple to withdraw $48,000 — a settlement that was supposed to go to their son, a gunshot victim.
The problem: The account was stamped with the note “no withdrawals without court approval” — and the judge hadn't granted such permission.
The next problem: Neither the judge nor court staff noticed that the account was empty for more than a year.
Omaha attorney Thomas Harmon is trying to recover the money on two fronts in the case that began with the shooting of a 2-year-old boy.
First, Harmon has secured a judgment against the boy's parents, former Omaha residents Blia and Sy Vang.
Second, Harmon has taken aim at the bank that allowed the lump-sum withdrawal.
While much attention has been given to the court-appointed guardians who have stolen from the people they were appointed to protect, judges and lawyers say they are much more likely to find finagling among family members.
Harmon said parents in particular often feel they have a right to their child's money.
“You'll have people say ‘Why can't I take the money? My kid needs a car,' ” Harmon said. “Well, the answer is simple: ‘It's your child's money, not yours.'
“In these cases, that money may be for a surgery down the road or to replace the child's lost earning capacity. It isn't to supplement mom and dad's income.”
First National Bank spokesman Kevin Langin declined to respond to the lawsuit, saying the bank “does not comment on issues regarding customer accounts or on matters involved in litigation.”
Harmon, who has worked in probate court for more than 20 years, said such cases are rare but not unprecedented.
Ten years ago Harmon sued U.S. Bank after a father emptied more than $100,000 from his son's account without court authorization. The father later admitted he used the money to feed his cocaine addiction, Harmon said.
It's unclear what the Vangs did with the $48,000. The couple, whose last known address was in Coon Rapids, Minn., couldn't be reached for comment.
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Bank Let Pair Draw Son's Settlement