Saturday, June 7, 2008

Harris County Probate

For years families bogged down in Harris County probate courts have accused judges of bleeding estates of tens of thousands of dollars to pay high-priced lawyers for unnecessary work.

A Houston appeals court ruled that probate Judge Mike Wood improperly awarded what may turn out to be more than $2 million in fees to a trustee and his lawyers over the objections of a wealthy father who set up three trusts for his sons.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the appeals court was brutal in its 46-page opinion. It ruled for a variety of reasons that Wood was wrong to grant a judgment of $1.9 million against Alpert while ordering the trusts to pay about $500,000 in fees to Crain Caton for representing Riley.

Among the errors:

•Wood was wrong to rule as a matter of law that Riley was actually the trustee of three trusts Alpert set up for his sons. Riley clearly was not the trustee of one of them, the court ruled. In the other two, the question should have been put to a jury because some evidence was against Riley.

•Wood was wrong to rule that Alpert had breached his duty to the trust. As the person who put the money into the trust, the court said, he owed no duty as to how the trust was managed. This is a widely acknowledged principle of trusts. Donors put money into a trust and give up control of it partly so they will not be liable for how it is handled.

•Riley accused Alpert of selling some stock in one of his companies to the trust to take a tax loss, but thereby caused a tax liability to the trust. The appeals court ruled, however, that the law doesn't even allow Riley to bring the claim. The reason is that only Riley, not Alpert, had the power to buy the stock from Alpert, and "the trustee alone is responsible as a fiduciary if he allows (Alpert) to mismanage trust property to the detriment of the trust."
This, again, is something a probate judge should know.

•The appeals court ruled that Judge Wood also erred in overruling the jury's finding that Riley had violated his duties to the trust and the two sons in a variety of ways. In other words the judge, not the jury, "convicted" the wrong man.

•The appeals court ruled Judge Wood awarded Riley tens of thousands of dollars in fees from the trusts in clear violation of language in them saying the trustee would earn no fees.

•The appeals court said the lower court should, based on its ruling, consider making Riley pay the legal fees for Alpert and his sons.

•The court ruled that even if a jury decides Riley was the legitimate trustee for two of the trusts, a new state law that went into effect in 2005 prohibits a trustee from pressing any lawsuit over the objections of the beneficiaries.

"All in all, the decision, without specifically saying so, describes Judge Wood as brazenly ignoring the law while liberally doling out the trusts' money to high-paid lawyers."

Judge Wood slapped again

See also:
Probate Showdown

Judge Mike Wood and Harris County Probate Court #2 is registered with the National Guardianship Association


Anonymous said...

Another story of blatant abuse of the courts. This blog continues nonstop daily ......story after story of these flagrant abuses of elders and their funds.

It would be nice if the blog would run out of horror stories and such abuses were isolated. But that is not the case, courts leave families struggling in the wreckage daily.

Tell everyone what is happening! The truth is SO unbelievable. It must stop! Until then, NASGA has a big job!

Anonymous said...

One more of the many judges who has now been put in the spotlight. We have many more who also have to have the bright lights shine up on them. After all it is Fame and Glory and Riches that they are all after for themselves and their friends, and to shut the lights off for our loved ones.

Anonymous said...

"Judge slapped again". He deserves more than a slapp after beating elders and their families down time after time.

After generating untold misery among elders and their families, anything other than a public stoning is not enough.

Anonymous said...

Mike Wood is also a certified guardian with the National Guardianship Association --- so it's easy to see where his loyalties lie and why he tramples all over families.

He should be thrown off the bench.

If the legal system is ever to gain any dignity, then the Mike Woods of the bench need to be thrown out with the trash.

Anonymous said...

Another tragic and sorrowful account of an innocent family's pain and suffering.

Judge Mike Wood is quilty of much more than being "wrong" in his actions from the bench. Let's call it what it really is - criminal!

And, how was Judge Mike Wood compensated? Rewarded? In other words, how much money? To the Judge by those in the probate buddy club that profitted when the judge "wrongly" appointed his buddies and for his "wrong" decisions as the final word on the law?

Judge Mike Wood and others like him, must be harshly punished, without mercy, in the civil process for restitution to the victim and in the criminal process, with time served in prison.

Anonymous said...

Judges brazenly ignore the law because they know they can get by with it. The victims of their lawless courts can rarely afford to appeal and most appeals aren't successful anyway. So, with no one watching, their egos inflate and pretty soon they're practically kings.