START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
Sep 28, 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 Halts Petition

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Posted: Sep 28, 2010 10:02pm
Sep 28, 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

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Posted: Sep 28, 2010 10:01pm
Sep 28, 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

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Posted: Sep 28, 2010 10:00pm
Sep 27, 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

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Posted: Sep 27, 2010 10:02pm
Sep 27, 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

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Posted: Sep 27, 2010 10:01pm
Sep 27, 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

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Posted: Sep 27, 2010 10:00pm
Sep 26, 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 ( for directions and more information.
McKean County Court House
500 West Main
East Smethport, PA

Friday, October 8 · 2:30pm - 4:30pm

Congressman Joe Sestak's Letter Supporting NASGA Member Holly Peffer

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Posted: Sep 26, 2010 10:01pm
Sep 26, 2010

Maggots have been discovered in the eye socket of a 76-year-old man under the care of a Gainesville nursing home with ownership ties to Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, his outraged daughter said.

A state investigation is under way.

"It's absolutely inexcusable," Patrice Ripley said. "Quite frankly, I'm angry."

Her father John Stumpp had been under the care of Gainesville Health Care Center when the maggots were found in an examination at a Veterans Administration facility, according to Ripley.

The Gainesville nursing home is part of a chain that includes Glades Health Care Center in Pahokee, controlled by the family of executive Maxcine Darville of Okeechobee. An investigation by The Palm Beach Post last year found Darville and family members enjoyed salaries above industry norms and spent money on luxury cars and hot tubs while two of three nursing homes in the chain, including the Gainesville home, received the lowest possible one-star rating from state regulators.

A Veterans Administration official confirmed the agency filed a report with the Adult Protective Services unit of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

By November 2009, AHCA had flagged 39 violations at Gainesville Health Care Center in the previous two years on matters ranging from sanitary food storage to maintenance of sprinklers and ventilation. An overall one-star rating from AHCA places the nursing home in the bottom 20 percent of nursing homes in its region.

The nursing home is licensed to the Gainesville Council on Aging, which lists Darville as its registered agent.

"I can't let this go," Ripley said. "I can't let this go for my dad and I can't let anybody else be mistreated either."

Full Article and Source:
Maggots Found in Eye Socket of Man in Nursing Home With Palm Beach County Ties

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Posted: Sep 26, 2010 10:00pm
Sep 25, 2010
A nurse and a part-time kindergarten teacher were sentenced to nearly five years in prison and ordered to repay $839,252 they stole from a 94-year-old man in their care.

Deborah G. Johnson, 53, and Anita Esquibel, 69, each pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one count of money laundering in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

Johnson, the nurse, and Esquibel, the teacher, gained the trust of Peter Svaldi after meeting him in the apartment building they managed near Graceland Shopping Center. After gaining power-of-attorney for Svaldi, they used his accounts to buy real estate, a car, jewelry and dental work.

A bank officer alerted police after discovering large transactions being made from the accounts of the elderly man, who was known for his frugality.

Full article and Source:
Nurse, Teacher Sentenced for Bilking Elderly Man

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Nurse and PT Teacher Charged With Theft

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Posted: Sep 25, 2010 10:01pm
Sep 25, 2010

New Horizons for New Hampshire's board of directors is backing executive director Michael Tessier despite state and federal criminal investigations into whether he played any role in the case that landed his brother, disbarred Manchester attorney Thomas Tessier, in prison for stealing $2.3 million from relatives.
A Probate Court judge said in a recent order that Michael Tessier, 57, a retired Manchester police captain, "was complicit in those illegal activities, primarily by being both an active and passive conduit for funds taken by his brother, Thomas Tessier."

Scott Colby, chairman of the board of Manchester's non-profit homeless shelter and soup kitchen, said the board has met with Michael Tessier and supports him.

In fact, the board was aware of the investigations when Michael Tessier was hired, according to his lawyer, Mark Howard of Manchester.

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Shelter Directors Stand by Tessier as Probe Unfolds

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Posted: Sep 25, 2010 10:00pm


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