Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Guardianships: A Broken Trust: Attorney: "Courts Have Allowed This Culture"

Ellen Morris
The conflict created for [Judge] Colin by his wife [Elizabeth Savitt] working as a professional guardian is a frequent topic of conversation among probate and elder law attorneys. But many told The Post that they fear reprisals for themselves or their clients if they speak on the record about Colin, particularly on matters involving his wife.

“I blame the courts because they have allowed this culture,” said one attorney, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Savitt acts with impunity because she has the wind behind her.”

Probate attorney Edward Shipe said Colin’s conflict of interest at the very least “doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right.”

“I can’t sit here and deny that,” Shipe said. “So we got this wife and she wanted to do guardianship cases so she started a guardianship business. It was talked about before it happened. I was scratching my head a little bit, thinking, ‘You are going to have problems doing this.’”

Professor Jarvis questioned whether attorneys who represent Savitt hope to get an edge in front of Colin.

“Are they doing this either to curry favor with Judge Colin or to avoid his wrath?” Jarvis said.

Savitt often hires attorneys Hazeltine, Ellen Morris and John Pankauski, prolific practitioners in elder law. They or members of their firms practiced in front of Colin before he began recusing himself from their cases last year. From 2009 to 2014, Colin’s recusals totaled 30. Since the beginning of July, he’s taken himself off 133 cases — 115 involving his wife’s lawyers.

Hazeltine, Morris and Pankauski or their firms — as well as the guardians they represent — have had fees in non-Savitt cases repeatedly approved by Judge Colin, The Post found.

Clifford Hark of Boca Raton refers cases to Savitt. He has also earned fees approved by the judge in other cases. For example, Colin signed off on $51,000 from the estate of retired Judge Stanley Hornstine in September 2013.

One of O’Grady’s daughters, Kathleen Osterbuhr of Derby, Kan., wrote the court to say Hark promised the family to fight Savitt’s petitions for lucrative fees in court, but never followed through.

Mayes said in another letter that “Hark has made mistakes and prolonged this case for his benefit” and that Savitt’s “conflict of interest has caused more problems than it has solved.”

Hark told The Post he has been practicing for 28 years in South Florida and does not “rely on Judge Colin for my livelihood.”

“I represent and zealously advocate for my client’s interest regardless of Ms. Savitt’s involvement in the case,” he wrote to The Post in an email.

Full Article and Source:
Guardianships:  A Broken Trust:  Attorney:  "Courts Have Allowed This Culture"
Judge Colin
Elizabeth Savitt

1 comment:

StandUp said...

The discipline committees have allowed it and even fostered it by not doing their job.