Archive for September, 2010

Edward Abbott Ravenscroft Fights Fiduciary

September 30, 2010

Edward Abbott Ravenscroft is a wealthy 49-year-old Scottsdale heir. His net worth is over $5 million, and his income is $180,000 a year.

But he has had troubles.

A judge appointed the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary as Ravenscroft’s guardian and the Sun Valley Group, a private fiduciary, to oversee his money. By August 2009, Ravenscroft was sober and in February was living on a friend’s couch.

Sun Valley was paying the friend $200 a week out of Ravenscroft’s assets for his room and board. Ravenscroft said he chose the couch to stop Sun Valley from putting him into a skilled care center.

Ravenscroft went to court early this year to take back control of his life and fortune. In March, a judge permitted the public fiduciary to exit the case, but Sun Valley, using Ravenscroft’s money, fought to still manage his finances, saying they were complex and vulnerable to exploitation.

In May, a judge canceled Sun Valley’s control of the money and appointed another private fiduciary with Ravenscroft’s approval.

Ravenscroft is back in his Scottsdale home. He said his trip through court cost him $800,000 in attorney and fiduciary fees.

“I’m not doing ‘Oh, poor me’ ” Ravenscroft said. “I’m saying, ‘How can I help other people so they don’t get caught up (in Probate Court).”

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court – Wealthy Heir Fights Against Fiduciary

See Also:
Edward Abbot Ravenscroft Wins Some Say

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Judges Do Little to Help

September 30, 2010

Gary Nichols had seen enough.

As his attorney dueled with other lawyers over how fees would be charged to his mother’s trusts, Gary decided a prolonged fight would only deplete her savings. So he told attorney Thomas Asimou to “shut down” the case.

Later, when sanctioning Asimou for ethical violations for his claims about a fee deal among the attorneys involved, Judge Karen O’Connor would call his withdrawal “quite telling.” He had “distracted (from) the true focus of the case – resolving the issues in the best interest of Dixie Nichols,” she said.

But Gary believed if the judge really cared about his mother’s interests, she would have intervened to slash the attorney fees.

“It was and remains my perception that my mother’s assets and estate, and her interests, were not being adequately protected by her attorneys,” Gary told the court. “I recall that I used the term ‘bellying up to the bar’ to describe my perception.”

O’Connor had raised the possibility of a criminal probe when she removed Gary’s sister, Nancy Cork, as her mother’s guardian and conservator. The judge ordered Nancy to account for expenses to “allow the parties to discover any alleged financial exploitation,” which is a crime. Asimou argued that such a finding would have prevented Nancy from paying her attorney’s fees out of her mother’s assets. Nancy was never charged with a crime. With the settlement, she agreed to step down as her mother’s trustee and relinquish her inheritance and any say in her mother’s finances.

O’Connor explained in an e-mail: “No financial exploitation was proven in this case, nor was there an agreement by the parties that it existed.”

Asimou appealed the $46,000 fine to the Arizona Court of Appeals alleging the judge abused her discretion.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court – Judges Do Little to Help

Lindsey Lohan Possibly Facing Conservatorship

September 30, 2010

Court could appoint a third party for Lindsay Lohan to act as a legal guardian over her affairs.

“Under the California Welfare and Institute Code for Mental Disorders and Chronic Alcoholism, the courts may determine Lindsay unfit to care for herself even though she is an adult,” Fox News quoted former California prosecutor, Robin Sax, as telling Pop Tarts.

“This would be subject to another court hearing separate to the criminal case, and could be determined from a mental health evaluation made when and if she returns to rehab.”

Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer and law professor, Jeffrey W. Steinberger, believes Lohan needs someone responsible to legally manage her personal affairs, although the process may take some time.

“What she needs is an emotional conservator, she needs somebody to run the balance in her life and they (the courts) can appoint people to supervise where she is going. They can probably do that after she does this one more stint in jail,” he said.

Steinberger said that Judge Fox, who is currently residing over Lohan’s DUI case, is known to be “compassionate,” and may begin to look for an appropriate conservator between now and Lohan’s Oct. 22 hearing.

Full Article and Source:
Lilo Could Be Placed Under Conservatorship By Court

NASGA Supports HALT’s ‘Lawyer Discipline Best Practices Petition’

September 29, 2010

Make sure your voice is heard – sign HALT’s Lawyer Discipline Best Practices petition. We need every member of the legal reform movement to stand up and be counted.

Every year, tens of thousands of people who pour hard-earned money into lawyers’ pockets find themselves battling the very person they hired to help them. And every year over 100,000 Americans who file complaints against lawyers with their state’s disciplinary agency walk away unhappy. In 2006, more than 123,000 complaints were filed against lawyers, but 92% led to no discipline or only informal “private” discipline. Less than 1% led to disbarment.

Signing HALT’s petition is one way you can demand action on ten common-sense reforms that push discipline agencies to:

*Disclose a lawyer’s complete and disciplinary history so that consumers can make informed decisions about whether to hire an attorney.
*Host a user-friendly Web site that is easy to find and provides helpful information about the discipline process.
*Discipline lawyers with formal, serious and public measures.
*Permanently disbar lawyers who commit abusive practices against clients.
*Abolish gag rules that prevent people from speaking publicly about complaints they’ve filed.
*Publicize the availability of lawyer discipline programs through required client notification and local advertising.
*Open lawyer discipline hearings to everyone to increase the public trust.
*Provide ordinary citizens with a majority voice on the panels that decide attorney misconduct cases.
*Grant clients and witnesses immunity from civil liability for any information given to the agency during a disciplinary investigation.
*Allow citizens to appeal initial complaint dismissals and hearing panel discussions.

HALT’s reform efforts are having an impact. Oregon, California and Nebraska are just three states that have implemented reforms that improve transparency and accountability.

But we need to show that legal reformers support HALT’s efforts in every state. Will you please help?

Our goal is to collect 1,000 signatures from each state.

Sign HALT’s Petition

Texas Couple Fights for Custody of Adult Daughter

September 29, 2010

An Arlington couple is fighting to regain guardianship of their daughter after being stripped of their rights by a judge.

They weren’t notified about the hearing and didn’t get to tell their side of the story. They found out after it was a done deal.

But what happened was completely legal.

The Covingtons were not notified before their rights were stripped. The ruling came in an ex parte hearing where a judge hears evidence only from the complaining party. The other side isn’t given notice of the hearing and doesn’t get to respond.

“You just don’t understand how this can happen in a democracy.” Frank said.

The Covingtons are asking to be reinstated as their daughter’s guardians at an upcoming hearing.

“I don’t know how we’re gonna get her back.” Chila said.

The Covingtons are devastated by what’s happened. They’ve accumulated $55,000 in legal bills and they’re fearful for their daughter.

But they’ve made a commitment to keep fighting.

Full Article, Video, and Source:
Couple Fights for Custody of Adult Daughter

See Also:
Families Lose Guardianship in Secret Hearings

Las Vegas Lawyer Under Scrutiny

September 29, 2010

Las Vegas attorney Stanley Walton is not having a good month.

One week after he was arrested for contempt of court in a probate case involving millions of reportedly missing dollars he was supposed to safeguard, Walton failed to file a formal answer to a Nevada State Bar complaint alleging he misappropriated $20,000 given to him by a client in an unrelated case.

Along the way, Walton is alleged to have violated several rules of professional conduct that Nevada lawyers are required to follow, particularly as they relate to relationships with clients.

The complaint, signed by State Bar of Nevada General Counsel Rob Bare, details Walton’s relationship with Xiao Ping Wang, which began in 2003 when Walton was appointed a special prosecutor in a domestic violence case in which Wang was the victim.

A month later he was her divorce attorney, and for a brief period, they were intimate. Walton continued to represent Wang in a variety of legal matters and, according to the Bar, she considered him her “general practitioner” lawyer.

According to the Bar, Walton might have offered Wang a deal that sounded too good to be true: A $20,000 investment that just 22 days later would yield $100,000.

Because Walton failed to file a written answer to the Bar complaint within the required 20 days, his law license is imperiled. The Nevada Supreme Court has final control over law licenses.

Potential disciplinary measures range from a private reprimand to permanent disbarment. It is also possible the Bar could file a second complaint regarding the probate case.

In its four allegations of rule violations, two claim Walton had a conflict of interest with Wang, one accused him of failing to protect her property, and the fourth — and arguably the most serious — charges him with misconduct for engaging in conduct “involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

Full Article and Source:
State Bar of Nevada Acts to Discipline Las Vegas Lawyer

Sister, Fiduciary Had the Same Lawyer!

September 28, 2010

For years, Dennis Ball was his mother’s [Eleanor]caregiver, helped create her trusts and managed her money.

But in 2004, Eleanor was hospitalized, and her estranged daughter, Carol, got a restraining order against Dennis and petitioned the court for temporary guardianship.

Although Eleanor initially protested the petition, she later agreed to the appointment of a neutral third-party conservator and guardian. She specifically asked that the court allow her to continue living at home and keep her estate plan.

The court appointed Southwest Fiduciary to manage her money and care, even though Southwest’s attorney was also Carol’s attorney.

Billing records show that over the next 22 months, Southwest and its attorneys managed Eleanor’s assets and care, consulting more with Carol than Dennis. .Southwest sold off Eleanor’s home and rental properties. It assumed control of her trust, took over her bank accounts and placed Eleanor in a nursing homeDennis said Southwest left his mother penniless. An accountant retained by Dennis found that 76 percent of her estate paid Southwest’s legal and administrative fees.

Southwest owner Greg DoVico would not discuss the Ball case. But in answering complaints to the Arizona Supreme Court’s fiduciary board, the company said Dennis refused to cooperate with the court, was sanctioned by a judge for filing a frivolous motion and financially exploited his mother, which he denies. The company said his complaints were based on half-truths.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court – Sister, Fiduciary Had Same Attorney

Maricopa Probate Court – Life Savings, Freedoms Taken Away

September 28, 2010

Outside of being imprisoned, no action in the American justice system deprives a person of so many rights as being declared incapacitated in Probate Court.

First, a judge rules that you can’t care for yourself. Then strangers can be given control of every aspect of your life. All that you’ve worked for and love – your savings, property, even your ability to contact your family – can be taken away and given to professionals to manage, at enormous expense to you.

Wills, trusts and powers of attorney may not matter.

Probate Court is meant to be a safe harbor for people in crisis because of advanced age or illness, a place where a judge helps protect their assets and well-being.

But an Arizona Republic investigation has found that Maricopa County Probate Court allows the assets of some vulnerable adults to become a cash machine for attorneys and for fiduciary companies, which manage their affairs.

The fees charged can drain the savings of even wealthy individuals in less than a year.

Among the investigation’s findings:

Issue I: Disputes trigger the problems. Fights among family members lead to protracted, costly legal battles. Judges often fail to step in early to stop the feuding and contain costs.
Issue II: Fees mount quickly. Bills for attorneys, fiduciaries and others can escalate at a staggering pace. Family members contend that professional fiduciaries bill people’s assets aggressively.
Issue III: Cozy relationships raise questions. Close ties among judges, attorneys and fiduciaries can result in apparent conflicts of interest. These relationships can endanger the court’s ability to hold attorneys and fiduciaries accountable for their billings and other practices.
Issue IV: Objectors take the blame. Relatives or lawyers who try to fight fiduciaries’ bills may instead find themselves blamed by the court for causing delays and held responsible for extra costs.
Issue V: Oversight is lax. Judges, who have ultimate responsibility for a vulnerable adult’s care and assets, are allowed to scrutinize and reject fees, but substantial denials are rare. The state board that licenses fiduciaries does little to question their conduct, especially if a judge already has ruled on a case.

[C]osts begin to mount when a judge appoints a professional fiduciary because no family member is willing or available to run the person’s affairs. The judge also appoints a fiduciary when family members are feuding.

And when family members disagree with one another or with the fiduciary, costs can soar: All parties may have one attorney or more, and most of them are allowed to bill the incapacitated adult’s assets.

Lawyers and fiduciaries defend their work, saying they help settle family feuds and arrange care when no one else will. Still, many acknowledge the system needs reform.

Critics say Probate Court has become a vehicle for exploitation.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court – Life Savings, Freedoms Taken Away

Maricopa Probate Court – Fees Mount Quickly

September 28, 2010

In a matter of months, lawyers and fiduciaries appointed by the court can rack up tens of thousands of dollars in bills. People who enter the court system flush with cash can end up destitute.

One reason the fees mount so quickly is the number of parties billing.

• The court may appoint two attorneys for the incapacitated person, the ward. One represents the ward’s desires, the other the ward’s best interests. The two may conflict.

• The ward’s trust, which holds assets, also may have an attorney who bills the assets.

• The private fiduciary and its attorney bill the assets.

• One or more of the ward’s relatives may have attorneys who may bill the assets.

A probate lawyer charges $175 to $400 an hour. Many private fiduciaries in Arizona charge $100 or more an hour. Attorneys and fiduciaries often discount their fees and perform some tasks for free.

Phoenix attorney Candess Hunter, who represents fiduciaries, says fees have become a huge profit center for some in the probate system: “It all has to do with a few people who have discovered how to create a billing machine to gather significant wealth.”

Attorneys and fiduciaries charge for seemingly every task their offices perform – opening mail, writing checks, answering the phone. A judge often reviews the bills only once a year and rarely makes big reductions.

Relatives grow especially angry when a fiduciary delays or denies paying for a ward’s needs while still billing for its own fees.

Family members of Dave Coppes, 85, of Carefree, who died last year, say a fiduciary, the Sun Valley Group, paid itself $27,000 in December 2008 about the same time it told them that Coppes could not afford hearing aids.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court – Fees Mount Quickly

Help Bring Rita Denmark Home

September 27, 2010

Pennsylvania member Holly Peffer is involved in a pivotal hearing on Friday, October 8, 2010 at 2:30 P.M. at the McKean County Pennsylvania Orphan’s Court.

NASGA asks for your support on behalf of Holly and her Mother, Rita Denmark. The State of Florida is currently holding Rita captive in an abusive guardianship and won’t let her come home to Bradford, PA.

She is not a criminal. She has done nothing wrong. But, for over three long, miserable years, she has languished in a Florida nursing home, completely isolated from her family and friends, while her daughter, Holly, has battled the legal system for Rita’s freedom. Florida doesn’t want to let Rita go. But, Rita’s not a resident of Florida. She’s just caught up in the system and red tape. It’s up to the State of Pennsylvania to bring Rita home.

The October 8th hearing is critical.

Please show your support for Rita Denmark and her right to come home and happily live her life with her loving family and friends instead of dying prematurely, alone and afraid in a stark and cold institution, held captive against her will.

You can make a difference! Please show up for the hearing and help send the message that it’s not only time for Rita Denmark to come home, it’s her right as an American citizen.

After the hearing, a reception will be held at Holly’s home. Everyone is welcome!

Please contact Holly Peffer (hlpeffer@yahoo.com) for directions and more information.
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McKean County Court House
500 West Main
East Smethport, PA

Friday, October 8 · 2:30pm – 4:30pm
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See:
Congressman Joe Sestak’s Letter Supporting NASGA Member Holly Peffer