There are few more frightening glimpses of probate court gone wrong than the story told in a new memo from the chief disciplinary counsel for the state committee that investigates complaints about lawyers.
An elderly, dying woman's valuable estate is hijacked and her will violated in what seems like a nightmare that just couldn't happen. Except that it did, just a few years ago, to an old Polish woman in Southington. It could happen to you.
I've been telling you about Josephine Smoron's probate debacle for years because Sam Manzo, the caretaker who was supposed to inherit the broken-down old farm off I-84, was so audaciously pick pocketed in full view of our probate courts. I'm still writing about this because an outrageous injustice still has yet to be remedied.
The Statewide Grievance Committee, which hears complaints about the more than 35,000 lawyers in Connecticut, is still considering what action to take against John Nugent, the lawyer appointed as Smoron's conservator. Superior and probate courts, meanwhile, have yet to sort out the shell game that snatched the farm from Smoron.
Nugent, who could lose his license to practice law, is still fighting efforts to resolve the case. In his responding memo to the grievance committee, Nugent's lawyer said his client "due to the fault of no one ... did not have complete and accurate information" and was never told that Manzo stood to inherit the farm.
During one hearing, Nugent was "distracted" and "simply did not hear" when told that Manzo had an interest in the property, the lawyer, James Sullivan, writes in his brief.
"He is hard of hearing and has been for many years because of his military service,'' said Sullivan, who adds that "there is no evidence of any financial benefit to Nugent ... he simply was not paying attention." Sullivan also writes that Manzo, who had been conservator to Smoron but was removed, "had left her financial affairs in a mess."
Meanwhile, the Smoron farm remains mired in the lawsuits stemming from Nugent's ill-fated conservatorship.
Manzo, broke and still the old farm's caretaker, hasn't inherited the property Josephine Smoron long sought to give him. This probate morality tale still stinks, which tells us plenty about a probate court system that politicians and judges often say has been reformed and brought into the 21st Century.
What's amazing – and most worrisome – about this case is that despite two lawyers looking out for Smoron's interests and a judge overseeing the matter, the old lady's will was ignored in routine, shuffle-the-papers fashion. This poor old woman had a court-appointed lawyer, a court-appointed conservator, and a judge who were all supposed to be in her corner.
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Can Damning Memo Finally Unjamb Gears of Justice in Probate Case Over Farm?