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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

June 15, 2003

Wash. Post finds shameful attorney & court neglect of probate wards

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:48 am

The Washington Post began a two-part story on Sunday, June 15, 2003, detailing shocking statistics and tales of clients victimized by their lawyer-Guardians in the probate section of the D.C. Superior Court.   The situation was made much worse by scandalously lax oversight and discipline from the responsible judges.  Sunday’s article is headlined Misplaced Trust | Guardians in the District : Under Court, Vulnerable Became Victims — Attorneys Who Ignored Clients or Misspent Funds Rarely Sanctioned . The article includes videos, graphics, and related online discussion.

With real-life stories interspersed, the Post Staff Reporters (Carol D. Leonnig, Lena H. Sun and Sarah Cohen) give the results of their intensive investigation [emphases added]:

“The court’s probate division, which is mandated to care for more than 2,000 elderly, mentally ill and mentally retarded residents, has repeatedly allowed its charges to be forgotten and victimized, an investigation by The Washington Post has found. Chaotic record-keeping, lax oversight and low expectations in this division of the court have created a culture in which guardians are rarely held accountable. They are often handed new work even when they have ignored their charges or let them languish in unsafe conditions.

“The Post’s review of more than 10 years of case dockets and hundreds of court files, as well as interviews with more than 200 judges, attorneys, and clients and their families, found hundreds of cases where court-appointed protectors violated court requirements. Since 1995, one of five guardians has gone years without reporting to the court. Some have not visited their ailing charges. In more than two dozen cases, guardians or conservators have taken or mishandled money.

Neglectful caretakers are rarely disciplined, D.C. bar records show. Even when they have been caught stealing or cheating clients, attorneys can go as long as nine years before they are punished.

“In about 240 cases since 1992, judges have reappointed lawyers who had been sanctioned or otherwise brought to the court’s notice for serious problems, such as mismanaged money, according to a review of court records. Many of these lawyers were eventually removed from at least one subsequent case as well.”

This story should be mandated reading for bar associations, judicial forums, and bar counsel everywhere.  It’s an alert that should spark similar studies of probate courts and appointed guardians across the nation, to ensure that similar practices are not fostered and condoned anywhere else.  Such studies should be spurred by the legal profession, rather than downplayed by it.  If we don’t protect our most vulnerable clients, who are we protecting?  Maybe ethicalEsq? needs to get a little more cynical.

Two Cents from Jack Cliente: Stumbling across the WashPost article late on a Saturday night took some of the fun out of a day that started on a much more lighthearted note.  See below.


Thanks to GMU law professor David Bernstein for mentioning ethicalEsq? today on his Bernsteinblog, and raising additional points about the D.C. guardian scandal.   Now, I wish the good professor would just explain for us, from the neo-classical economic perspective, how U. Chicago Law could be sponsoring the Toilet Survey discussed immediately below.     Update:  Prof. Bernstein responded: “I don’t think Prof. Case is a neoclassicist.” 


  1. I saw this article in the Post today and am going to link to it along with a link to your site. Although I tend to criticize disciplinary committees for disparate enforcement against solos or overbearing enforcement generally, the conduct described in the article is completly egregious and is an example of what the bars and the profession should NOT tolerate.

    Comment by Carolyn Elefant — June 15, 2003 @ 4:36 pm

  2. Problem and Solution: DC Probate Court

    Now that the Washington Post has documented that the DC Probate Court
    officials are holding citizens of DC who are wards as hostages to loot
    their estates (the problem), the Federal or DC Mafia-busting agencies
    must investigate and bring criminal charges against every one of these
    vicious and dangerous outlaws (the solution). They must start with the rotten no good judges who are the culprits.

    Comment by Tolu Tolu — June 30, 2003 @ 11:56 am

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