The Palm Beach Post’s investigation into the the veteran jurist and his wife in the guardianships of incapacitated seniors.
But it remains to be seen whether he still has a role in guardianship through a mediation program he helps coordinate.
Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath, with little
fanfare, posted Colin’s transfer on the judicial circuit’s website on
Tuesday, moving him from the Probate & Guardianship Division in
Delray Beach to the Civil Circuit division in the central courthouse in
West Palm Beach.
He is also no longer hearing Family Division
cases and will instead hear civil disputes and hold jury trials
involving disputes in amounts of more than $15,000.
The move was buried on the circuit’s website and not readily seen without searching an announcement section that appeared blank on the home page.
Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman will take Colin’s place, hearing
guardianship, probate and family cases in the South County Courthouse.
Colin assumes Goodman’s docket as of Monday in the circuit civil division. Colin said he will not seek re-election following The Post’s series, Guardianship: A Broken Trust.
transfer comes just as the Florida Senate approved legislation that
would give Florida its first regulatory authority over professional
guardians. The bill – along with one passed this past year – is in
response to complaints of guardians bilking the savings of the elderly
as appointed officers of the court.
Many of these elderly seniors — called wards — suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.
did not respond to a request through his spokesperson to comment. He
also would not answer repeated queries about whether Colin will continue
in his role coordinating the court’s elder care program, a mediation
program for guardianship disputes, where many former judges work. Chief
Judge Colbath’s father, for example, former Chief Judge Walter N.
Colbath Jr., is listed as a mediator for a local company.
appears that Colbath is not taking any direct action regarding Colin’s
wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, a professional guardian who has taken
tens of thousands of dollars from the life savings of incapacitated
seniors prior to court approval in guardianships and in follow-up
The couple’s finances improved substantially after
Savitt became a guardian in 2011 after years of foreclosures, liens and
unpaid loans to private individuals.
As a court-appointed
professional guardian, Savitt takes over the lives of seniors and other
adults who no longer can care for themselves, managing their finances,
medical care and whether they can remain in their homes. She has access
to hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was a tennis pro before she
became a guardian.
The families of these seniors,
backed by reams of court documents, say that besides taking fees
without court approval, Savitt double-billed, funneled money to
relatives of the ward who are suspected of financial — and even physical
abuse. In numerous cases, she was accused by families of creating
unnecessary litigation in order to generate more fees for herself and
the cadre of attorneys who represent her.
regularly appeared in front of Colin, sometimes seeking his approval for
generous fees in other cases. When The Post started investigating,
Colin started shedding their cases: 115 recusals from July 1 to Dec. 31.
colleagues on the bench presided over his wife’s cases. Currently, she
has at least two guardianships but has also been involved in managing
special-needs trusts and as a personal representative of estates.
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan
told The Post for its series that Savitt’s role as a professional
guardian created an appearance of impropriety for Colin that put him in
jeopardy of violating the state’s judicial canons.
Savitt and Colin have denied any wrongdoing.
didn’t hear Savitt’s cases, but his colleagues do – particularly
Circuit Judge David French, a friend who once planned a cruise vacation
with the both of them.
French, for now, appears to be staying put
in the Probate & Guardianship Division. Earlier this month, Colbath
announced a five-point plan that directed all “current” south county
judges to recuse themselves from Savitt’s cases so it is uncertain
whether Judge Goodman will be hearing Savitt’s cases.
plan also includes training for probate judges and their staff,
standardization of billing practices and a wheel system to provide
random assignments of guardians to cases.
Dr. Sam Sugar, who has
led the charge for legislative reform in Florida as head of Americans
Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, said Colbath has not gone far
“The response from Judge Colbath is an outrage and
reinforces the widely held and growing perception that the Florida court
system does not deserve the trust of the people,” he said.
of blatant conflicts of interest, looting of innocent people’s entire
estates, self serving protection of rapacious guardians and lawyers has
resulted in no discipline, no consequences, but every indication that
this egregious system will continue.”
For Skender Hoti, Colbath’s actions smack of a whitewash.
is the restaurateur who in February 2012 watched as Savitt – assisting a
family guardian — tried to seize possessions from one of his homes
using an order by Colin. Hoti claims he is still missing cash, jewelry
and other possessions.
Hoti cared for Gwendolyn Batson for decades before the senior’s brother sought to find her incapacitated and seize her assets.
Hoti said Colbath’s changes are sweeping the problem under the rug.
been caught so we will change clothing and continue as usual,” Hoti
said. “A septic tank plumbing would be more appropriate.”
Colbath shook up the judiciary with Colin’s move, lawmakers aimed to do
the same to professional guardians. The Senate unanimously passed a bill
Wednesday to provide the state’s first real regulatory authority over
the burgeoning industry, while the House’s Judiciary Committee
unanimously advanced a bill that would do the same.
SB 232,is sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, while its House companion HB 403 is sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole.
think a year from now this is going to be the top issue on 20/20 and 60
Minutes,” Detert said before the vote. “I think with this bill we will
have the strongest law in the nation.”
The bill would create the
Office of Public and Professional Guardians and give the state the power
to investigate and discipline professional guardians. The bill has
received support from Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship,
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida State Guardianship Association.
speaking to the Judiciary Committee, said reports of guardians taking
financial advantage of the elderly person they are sworn to protect are
overwhelming. He told lawmakers that they don’t want to read another
story of guardianship abuse.
Jodi Rich, whose uncle was in a
contentious guardianship under Savitt, said bills are a good sign of
change for the industry to hold bad professional guardians accountable.
“It’s a good idea that the state now looks out for seniors’ welfare,” she said.
Not everybody, though, was a fan.
public comment in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the bill came
under fire for not addressing how new standards will be formulated and
was called a Band-Aid on a massive wound.
“It is all about the money,” said guardianship reform advocate Douglas Franks of Pensacola,
who has fought a professional guardian on behalf of his mother.
“Isolate, medicate and steal the estate — that is what these people go
Full Article & Source:
Judge in Post series moved from guardianship cases
Chief judge keeps public waiting on details of guardianship shakeup
Guardianships: A Broken Trust: Attorney: "Courts Have Allowed This Culture"
Guardianships: A Broken Trust, 115 Recusals in Six Months
Guardianships: A Broken Trust: Judges Socialized, Planned Trips Together