Trailblazer was 'persecuted by the very judicial system she served so well,' said a nephew.
|Superior Court Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux in 1988. (File Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)|
She was an accomplished opera singer, a film casting agent, an office secretary for Coca-Cola and, finally, Orange County’s first female Superior Court judge.
Appointed to the municipal bench in 1974 and then later to the superior court bench, Betty Lou Lamoreaux fought so fervently for children’s rights that the county’s seven-story family court in Orange is named after her: the Lamoreaux Justice Center.
Feisty to the core, Lamoreaux once commented to a reporter in a published report that she sometimes wanted to put parents in jail instead of their children, who had been scarred by broken homes and a lack of family morals.
Lamoreaux died Nov. 30 after a years-long struggle with Alzheimer’s. She was 94.
Born April 22, 1924, in Twin Falls, Idaho, Lamoreaux was raised by her aunt and uncle in North Ogden, Utah, upon her mother’s death. She was known to family and friends as “Lou.”
Lamoreaux obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA and then her law degree from San Francisco Law School. She was admitted to the California Bar in 1957.
Probate tug-of-war persists
In the last years of her life, Lamoreaux was caught in a tug-of-war between relatives and probate court attorneys over how best to take care of her.
Despite her death, the probate court battle is far from over. Feuding family members and nearly 10 attorneys and conservators are angling for a piece of what’s left of her estate, a Newport Beach house valued at an estimated $1.5 million.
The probate professionals likely will be submitting bills worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for a judge to consider. Then there is the battle between two factions of Lamoreaux’s family for whatever is left.
Nephew Duff McGrath, Lamoreaux’s trustee, says he is trying to preserve her legacy and fulfill her wishes. And he regrets taking the case to probate court in an attempt to shield Lamoreaux and her estate from an in-law described in court documents as a “con man.”
What McGrath found was that by going to court, he opened the door for attorneys to be hired as well as conservators and beneficiaries and forensic accountants, each commanding high salaries. At one point, the court-appointed experts drove up Lamoreaux’s cost of care to $40,000 a month.
‘Persecuted’ by judicial system
“In the last remaining years of her brilliant life, ironically, she was persecuted by the very judicial system she served so well. Complacent judges and greedy, court-appointed officers began to drain her life savings on frivolous court filings during the time she needed protection,” McGrath said.
It is problem replayed throughout the nation. Probate judges take the power from family members and give it to strangers with big salaries, isolating the client and creating dispute. The longer the dispute, the longer the fees accrue for court hearings, motions and other legal proceedings. By keeping the case open, the experts keep the money flowing.
Not all probate cases end badly and expensively. But many do, to the point that reformers describe the attorney-driven system as: “isolate, medicate, steal the estate.”
“It’s happening again and again. It’s like a plague on our senior citizens,” Berkeley Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett, who is among those calling for state reform, said in a previous interview.
“We need to turn the operation upside down. What you see is an incentive to work up attorney fees,” Bartlett said. “There is no incentive to preserve the liberty of the person. We need greater oversight with more opportunity to challenge.”
Much of the McGraths’ criticism is aimed at Laguna Hills conservator Sally Cicerone — one of the more active conservators in Orange County. State records show she managed $26.7 million in assets in 2017.
After her first year with Lamoreaux, she billed the estate $42,210, according to records.
Among the family’s complaints: Cicerone waited four months to get a replacement for Lamoreaux’s broken wheelchair. And even then, the new chair didn’t fit and quickly broke. Cicerone billed $700 for her time. Cicerone declined comment Friday when reached by phone.
McGrath is staging a “reverent walk” for probate awareness at 10 a.m. Jan. 3 from the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange to the Superior Court in Santa Ana. For more information and to RSVP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. On Jan. 4, McGrath said he will screen a full-length documentary free of charge on the probate scandal called “The Guardians” at the 800-seat Performing Arts Center in Laguna Woods.
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Retired Orange County Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux dies, but probate fight persists for her estate