Sunday, August 13, 2017

Federal Jury Slams Two West Palm Beach Lawyers For $16.4 Million Civil Court Judgment For Their Roles In "Holding Captive" A Wealthy 97-Year Old Texas Man In South Florida While Fleecing Him For "Unnecessary & Excessive Fees" Of $1 Million In Guardianship Racket

In West Palm Beach, Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports:
  • Advocates for guardianship reform clamored in vain for years that Florida’s system failed to properly protect incapacitated seniors, that its primary purpose had been perverted to line the pockets of greedy attorneys and professional guardians with the hard-earned life savings of the elderly.

    Now they can point to a new federal verdict awarding a whopping $16.4 million in a lawsuit claiming that two West Palm Beach attorneys breached their fiduciary duties while running up “unnecessary and excessive fees” of $1 million.

    “It’s really kind of a landmark case,” said Julian Bivins, who brought the suit as the personal representative of the estate of his father, Oliver, a Texas oil man. “It sends a message to these unscrupulous lawyers and guardians that they are not going to be able to get away with it anymore.”

    The Bivins guardianship case emanates out of the court of Circuit Judge Martin Colin, the subject of an investigation by The Palm Beach Post into the judge’s conflicts of interest because his wife is a professional guardian.

    Colin in open court had heaped praise on the attorneys who lost the case and refused to hold a hearing to decide whether the attorneys had “secretly” kept money from the sale of one of Oliver Bivins’ properties in an escrow account for more than a year, according to court documents.

    The Post’s award-winning series featuring Colin, Guardianships: A Broken Trust, resulted in an overhaul of guardianship rules in Palm Beach County. Colin retired last December after he was transferred from the Probate & Guardianship Division because of The Post’s reporting.

    Weeks after The Post published, Julian Bivins filed a motion to disqualify Colin, saying his concerns about the “close-knit atmosphere of the Guardians, their attorneys” and Colin had been “glaringly brought to light” in the stories.

    Held captive?

    The younger Bivins said he felt his father was “held captive” in South Florida by the guardianship so the attorneys could liquidate real estate assets — including a New York City Upper East Side mansion — and charge more fees. Colin granted an emergency order prohibiting the senior from returning to Texas.

    The jury found on July 28 that attorneys Brian M. O’Connell and Ashley N. Crispin of the Ciklin, Lubitz & O’Connell firm not only breached their fiduciary duty but committed professional negligence.

    The lawsuit claimed they failed to get appraisals on two high-end New York City properties being divided among family. They were not of equal value and as a result, Julian Bivins ended up with one that was worth millions less than other.

    The jury’s decision to award $16.4 million makes up the difference.

    But the fight over the property is far less important to reform advocates than the fact that attorneys who carry out the wishes of professional guardians and are paid with the ward’s money were held accountable.

    This case in one of the longtime hotbeds of guardianship abuse is a tipping point,” said Sam Sugar, director of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship.

    “This first salvo sends a serious message not only to the predatory guardians and lawyers who have been exploiting families all over Florida for decades but especially to the probate judges without whose complicity these cases could never happen.”

    Oliver Bivins died at age 97 in March 2015. He ended up in the court-ordered guardianship when he visited his condominium in Palm Beach in 2011 and a social worker became concerned with his well-being, according to court documents.

    Oliver Bivins appeared to be coming to Florida for a weekend vacation, leaving his refrigerator in Texas fully stocked, plaintiff attorneys told the jury. His son said he often didn’t visit his Palm Beach condominium for years at a time.

    The verdict takes a further step toward re-establishing that attorneys are supposed to represent the incapacitated ward, not the court-appointed professional guardian — a position many lawyers have argued in court to thwart families trying to rein in a fee frenzy.

    If it wasn’t for me, they would have completely depleted my dad’s estate,” said Julian Bivins, who now lives in Palm Beach. “I’ve been fighting them from the beginning to just get him back to Texas. Finally, I got him back there 35 days before he passed away.”

    As with many family members who challenge the status quo in guardianship in Palm Beach County, Julian said he found himself relentlessly attacked in court. He was even sued by one of the guardians in the case, Curtis Rogers.

    The biggest toll, he said, though, was his relationship with his father as Rogers told the elder Bivins that his son only wanted his money. “He turned my dad against me,” Julian Bivins said. “I could never explain to my father how he was being held for ransom, how they wouldn’t let him go.”

    [...]
For more, see Jury hits lawyers with $16.4M for doing senior wrong in guardianship.

See generally, The Wall Street Journal: Abuse Plagues System of Legal Guardians for Adults (Allegations of financial exploitation and abuse are rife, despite waves of overhaul efforts).

Go here for earlier posts on the ripoffs of the dead and incapacitated under cover of court-sanctioned guardianship/conservatorship/public administrator systems. granny-snatching ripoff reimbursement

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