Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chief judge keeps public waiting on details of guardianship shakeup

Palm Beach County’s chief judge would not say Wednesday whether he would allow longtime probate Judge Martin Colin to continue hearing cases in the division where his wife makes her living as a professional guardian.

Jeffrey Colbath Tuesday released a list of changes in response to a Palm Beach Post investigation about Colin and his wife, Elizabeth Savitt. But none of his five changes says anything about the fate of Colin and his close friend and probate colleague, Circuit Judge David French, who hears most of Savitt’s cases and approves her fees. Colbath would take no media questions Wednesday.

The Post’s series, Guardianship: A Broken Trust, exposed practices by Savitt, including taking fees without prior court approval, double billing and funneling the life savings of incapacitated seniors to relatives accused of taking advantage of them. Her lawyers practiced in front of Colin, a longtime jurist in the Probate & Guardianship Division.

Among the most significant changes is the chief judge’s plan to rotate “personnel” effective Feb. 15 and the recusal of current south county judges from Savitt’s cases. This presumably will include French, a friend of Colin’s and Savitt’s who once planned a Caribbean cruise vacation with the pair.

Colbath also said he will establish a wheel to provide random assignment of professional guardians to cases, provide in-house training for probate judges and court staff and standardize billing practices for guardians and attorneys.

Colbath’s office said on Wednesday that the judge’s rotation will be announced on Feb. 12 but that other details of the overhaul were still being worked out. Circuit spokeswoman Debra Oats said, “It is too early to describe the details related to the implementation.”

Colbath has not spoken to The Post directly about Colin, Savitt or his reforms, instead speaking through Oats or his general counsel.

The Post’s stories revealed how Savitt’s work as a professional guardian created an appearance of impropriety for Judge Colin, according to a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Colin didn’t hear his wife’s cases, but her attorneys appeared in front of him for years, relying on him for approval of sometimes lucrative fees. Families told The Post that other judges — Colin’s colleagues — ignored their complaints and concerns about Savitt.

Colin recused himself of 115 cases involving Savitt’s attorneys in the past six months of 2015 after The Post started investigating. In The Post’s series, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan questioned how Colbath allowed Colin to remain in the division where his wife makes money for his own household.

Neither Colin’s nor French’s offices would say when — or even if — they were being transferred. The question remains if Colbath is going to allow the judges to remain in the Probate & Guardianship Division. Colin announced Tuesday that he is not seeking re-election.  (Continue Reading)

Full Article & Source:
Chief judge keeps public waiting on details of guardianship shakeup

See Also:
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

1 comment:

Betty said...

If what the Post has reported is true, both judge Colin and his wife, Elizabeth Savitt, should be charged with conspiracy and theft.