The second in a series of articles from Florida’s Palm Beach Post, written by John Pacenti, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, and produced by Kristyn Wellesley and Gurman Bhatia
How do you convince a god he is wrong?
The nation as a whole is beset by unscrupulous guardians, some of whom have been charged with crimes. Florida passed its first effort at reform last legislative session, including applying criminal penalties to guardians found guilty of abuse. Advocates say legislative reform, though, means nothing if judges are complicit in draining the life savings of seniors in guardianships.
Judges like Colin are the main line of defense against guardianship abuse.
Colin, 66, is one of a handful of judges in Palm Beach County Circuit Court who oversee guardians for incapacitated adults. When a senior is found to be incapacitated, they lose all legal rights to make decisions for themselves. So these judges approve expenditures including fees for the guardian and the guardian’s attorney — again all coming from the senior’s money.
“The problems all arise from the judges and the lawyers and the greed-driven abusive guardians they enable,”said Dr. Sam Sugar, co-founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, which spearheaded the Florida legislation.
“Judges are extremely insulated. They are legal gods who live in a court bubble in which they only believe what their friendly guardians tell them. I mean how do you convince a god that he or she is wrong? It’s a near incestuous fraternity.”
The final arbiter for judges’ behavior is the Florida Supreme Court. A former chief justice says Colin’s conflict needs to be investigated.
“If you are sitting on the bench, you should not be doing things that would put a question in the minds of the public,” said Gerald Kogan, who served on the high court from 1987 to 1998.
Judge’s history of debt: Foreclosures, IRS liens
Colin and Savitt are positioned as the power couple of the lucrative probate arena. Colin’s financial history, however, is littered with debt, including suits for foreclosure on three properties and $65,000 once owed to the IRS for back taxes.
Savitt also had a recent foreclosure on a property. The couple’s financial problems appear to have eased since she became a professional guardian.
Financial records show Savitt’s finances are mainly separate from the judge’s, but it appears the couple has co-mingled finances at least somewhat, West Palm Beach accountant Richard Rampell said. He pointed to a co-signed $30,000 loan from Helen Rich, a Wrigley chewing gum heiress who was a former client of Colin’s when he practiced as a divorce lawyer.
And even with couples who keep their finances separate, there is bound to be overlap, Rampell said.
“It’s very common, especially if one makes more money than other. And even if they say they don’t, they often do,” Rampell.
Sugar puts it simply: “Any money she collects would essentially be money he collects.”
…. To be continued….
To read this complete article online at the Palm Beach Post website, click here.