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Critiques of the Judiciary
“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

-- Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Judicial Plunder
Elderly Josephine Smoron had willed her family farm, worth at least $1.5 million, to a farmhand who had been her long-time caretaker.  Ignoring her will, Connecticut probate judge Bryan F. Meccariello, who provides training to other judges on ethics, appointed a local lawyer, who had an interest in selling the farm to a developer, as Smoron's conservator.  When the case was finally examined by the Council On Probate Judicial Conduct, the lawyers who comprise the council simply chastised Judge Meccariello who received a mere censure for his role in attempting to steal the estate of a frail and vulnerable woman and disfranchise her legally-appointed heir.  The growth of guardianship abuse in the U.S. is apparently bolstered by the absence of meaningful penalties for judges and lawyers who engage in such misconduct.

Southington Probate Court Judge Bryan Meccariello Faces Judicial Misconduct Charges
September 10, 2010

Rare is the chutzpa so shamefully displayed by Southington Probate Court Judge Bryan F. Meccariello.

The judge who presided over a court process that expunged Sam Manzo, a humble farmhand, from Josephine Smoron's will, now wants to be the hero.

Meccariello told the Council On Probate Judicial Conduct this week that it was but a small mistake that he ignored Smoron's will in May 2009 when he gave the OK to the creation of two trusts that allowed the Smoron Farm to be acquired by a local developer.

The judge said he was merely trying to bring Smoron home before she died in June 2009 at age 92.

At the time, Smoron lay dying in a nursing home. Her wish was to give the family farm, worth at least $1.5 million, to Manzo, her long-time caretaker. Meccariello hadn't seen her in more than a year. The man he appointed as her conservator—local lawyer John Nugent—never bothered to meet her. ("I don't speak dementia,'' Nugent artfully explained to the council this week.)

A Democrat who channels both Richard Nixon and Eddie Haskell, Meccariello told the council that he was merely adhering to a plan—a secret one unbeknownst to anyone but the judge—that would have brought dear old Josephine Smoron back to her beloved farm.

"The game plan,'' Meccariello declared, "was to create the vehicle that would allow her to get back to her house ... My intentions were to get her back to that farm ... I was blinded by the fact that this woman wanted to go home."

"The goal was to always get her back home. It was Josephine Smoron's land. It was Josephine Smoron's money. Unfortunately, she never made it back."

Manzo, who mortgaged (and lost to foreclosure) his home to help pay for some of Josephine Smoron's bills and who was removed by Meccariello as her conservator in 2008, could only shake his head. After Meccariello appointed Nugent, "there was no plan,'' Manzo told me.

Meccariello is the man who allowed the entire mess to unfold, who never would have been caught were it not for Manzo's complaint about a railroad job unfolding in the Southington Probate Court. This is the judge who, as Smoron's sad fate unfolded before his court over her last year, never bothered to find out how she was doing in the hospital or nursing home.

Yet he had a plan to save her.

From: Rick Green, "Southington Probate Court Judge Bryan Meccariello Faces Judicial Misconduct Charges" Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, September 10, 2010, http://articles.courant.com/2010-09-10/news/hc-green-probate0910-20100910_1_sam-manzo-josephine-smoron-smoron-farm, accessed 01/29/2011.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

State Council Censures Meccariello In Smoron Case
September 21, 2010

Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello has been censured by a state probate council for his handling of the estate of Josephine Smoron, an elderly woman who wanted to leave her estate to her longtime caretaker.

The Council On Probate Judicial Conduct, which released a report Tuesday in a months-long investigation into a complaint against Meccariello, said the probate judge committed a "grave injustice."

Meccariello was accused of disinheriting Smoron's designated heir—caretaker Sam Manzo—and giving her estate to three local churches, which in turn planned to sell her Southington dairy farm to a developer who wants to build an $18 million sports complex on the property.

In its report, the Council On Probate Judicial Conduct said Meccariello failed to meet the standards of conduct for probate judges and condemned his actions in harsh language.

"There is no justifiable reason why a judge of probate, knowing of a pre-existing will which documents the ward's testamentary intent, should approve the creation of a trust that vitiates the purpose and language of the will," the council said in its decision.

"Such an action constitutes a blatant transgression against the lawful rights and interests of the constituent ward and the beneficiaries named in her will. Nor can it be denied that a certain degree of hubris on the part of Attorney [Jack] Nugent and Judge Meccariello infected the probate court proceedings."

The Council On Probate Judicial Conduct could have recommended that Meccariello be impeached by the legislature. But the council instead decided on a lesser penalty by censuring him, an action that probate council Director Richard Banbury called "very unusual." Banbury said the censure carries no fines or suspension.

In a separate statement Tuesday, Probate Court Administrator Paul Knierim and Connecticut Probate Assembly President Daniel Caruso said the council's findings "indicate fundamental and grave violations of the duties of a probate judge." The assembly is an association of the state's probate judges.

"All our judges take these findings seriously," said Caruso, a probate judge in Fairfield. "The council's decision certainly warrants extensive soul-searching by all concerned."

Meccariello said Tuesday that he thinks the council's decision was appropriate.

From: Ken Bryron, "State Council Censures Meccariello In Smoron Case" Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, September 21 2010, http://articles.courant.com/2010-09-21/community/hc-southington-smoron-0922-20100921_1_probate-judge-probate-council-new-probate-district, accessed 01/29/2011.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

Probate Abuse Stretches Far Beyond Connecticut
Federal Probe Finds Hundreds Of Cases Exploiting Elderly's Estates
November 2, 2010

A scathing investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office confirms what I've been telling you about probate court in Connecticut for years.

A perverse industry is preying upon our most vulnerable citizens.

Court-appointed "conservators" are abusing, neglecting and exploiting the elderly and the sick—the people they are supposed to be taking care of—all across the nation. It is unclear how widespread the problem is, but this isn't limited to a handful of probate courts.

The GAO identified hundreds of instances in 45 states in the last 20 years where courts were accused of failing to adequately screen conservators, also know as guardians. Once appointed, the guardians failed to properly oversee individuals they were supposed to be helping.

"The allegations point to guardians taking advantage of wards by engaging in schemes that financially benefit the guardian but are financially detrimental to the ward under their care,'' GAO investigators concluded. "Victim's family members often lose their inheritance or are excluded by the guardian from decisions affecting their relative's care."

In Missouri, GAO investigators found a guardian who embezzled more than $640,000 from an 87-year-old man with Alzheimer's. In Connecticut, they found an attorney appointed as a conservator for four victims, all over 70 and with dementia, who stole more than $120,000. In California, guardians appointed to care for an elderly dementia patient instead sold the woman's properties at below-market value to behind-the-scenes buyers.

In New York, investigators found a guardian who whittled down the value of an 82-year-old man's multi-million estate to almost nothing. In another New York case, a guardian generated nearly $74,000 in excessive fees for himself, gouging the estate of a 92-year-old woman with significant memory loss and poor judgment.

"A big concern would be the courts' appointing people who aren't fit,'' said Ashley Glacel, spokeswoman for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, which requested the GAO report. She said the committee has been hearing of complaints about guardianship abuse for years.

"Federal rights are being violated. Due process and civil rights are being violated. There is inhumane abuse," said Lori Duboys of the National Council To Stop Guardianship Abuse.

From: Rick Green, "Probate Abuse Stretches Far Beyond Connecticut; Federal Probe Finds Hundreds Of Cases Exploiting Elderly's Estates" Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, November 2 2010, http://articles.courant.com/2010-11-02/news/hc-green-probate1102-20101101_1_conservator-guardian-probate, accessed 01/29/2011.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.















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