California Probate Court Judges’ Failure to Protect Vulnerable Elder Abuse Victims

 

Judge Robert M. Letteau's attorney's fee ruling in elder abuse case reversed due to bias and misconduct

In an unpublished decision in the Conservatorship of Feist case, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert M. Letteau’s “unexplained and drastic reduction of [elder law attorney Marc B.] Hankin’s fee request—from $62,539.75 to $11,134.71.” The appeals court reversed Judge Letteau’s punitive and arbitrary fee reduction because it found that his decision was “patently an abuse of discretion[,]” the result of “palpable animosity” between Judge Letteau and Mr. Hankin, “inordinately delayed…for a full year[,]” and “tainted by an evident bias against counsel.” The Court of Appeal for the Second District decided not to publish its decision and instead to keep Judge Letteau’s willful misconduct essentially a private matter outside of public rebuke. However, on May 20, 2004, the California Commission on Judicial Performance issued a public admonishment against Judge Letteau because of “a troubling pattern of repeated violation of ethical duties that are fundamental to the fairness…of the judicial process” and a “pervasive pattern of bias, prejudgment, ex parte communication, and abuse of judicial authority toward parties and attorneys…” in the Conservatorship of Feist and four other cases.

Many California probate court judges abandon their sacred duty to protect vulnerable elder abuse victims

Elder Abuse Exposed.com exposes to the light of day the following disturbing secrets about many of California’s probate court judges handling elder abuse cases or conservatorships:

  • Apathetic probate court judges who abandon their sacred duty to protect vulnerable elder abuse victims and thereby directly and indirectly facilitate further physical, psychological, and financial elder abuse.
  • Bad probate court judges who abuse their discretion, issue blatantly improper and erroneous rulings, and flout the law by, for example, summarily dismissing an elder abuse lawsuit filed pursuant to California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, without any notice to the parties, any hearing, or due process of law.
  • Corrupt probate court judges who pressure attorneys to settle elder abuse victims’ cases cheaply and help clear judges’ calendars by using the following improper techniques:
    • Awarding fees to conservators, attorneys, and forensic experts so far below market value and their overhead that even dedicated champions of the elderly cannot afford to handle elder abuse cases.
    • Demonstrating in ways that are not always obvious in court transcripts that they are displeased with attorneys who insist on an elder abuse victim’s right to trial and vindication, as promised by California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.
    • Appointing crony lawyers and guardians ad litem who supposedly provide victimized elders with additional independent legal representation (at substantial cost to victims) but who actually help judges clear their calendars of time-consuming elder abuse cases involving non-wealthy victims.
    • Issuing blatantly biased rulings favoring and rewarding crony lawyers or guardians ad litem who cooperate with judges’ program of rejecting elder abuse cases involving non-wealthy victims and who harass victims’ attorneys who refuse to sell out their clients just to avoid the judges’ wrath.
  • Biased and corrupt probate court judges who allow and thereby tacitly encourage court-employed probate examiners to prepare false and misleading official case summaries, unjustifiable proposed rulings, and probate calendar notes that result in onerous workloads on victims’ attorneys who refuse to go along with the court’s misconduct just to get along with the court.
  • Biased probate court judges who allow and thereby tacitly encourage litigious and often affluent elder abusers and their attorneys to misuse and prolong the expensive discovery process to wear down victims’ conservators and attorneys, drain their financial resources in a war of attrition, and subdue the victims.
  • Biased and apathetic probate court judges who refuse to spend adequate time to read court papers and hear oral testimony and argument substantiating elder abuse unless the cases involve wealthy victims or substantial media attention.
  • Biased and apathetic probate court judges who deny or dismiss wholly or partially unread petitions filed by attorneys on behalf of non-wealthy elder abuse victims.
  • Biased and apathetic probate court judges who continually postpone hearings and thereby provide elder abusers more time to harm victims and file specious and perjurious pleadings without any punishment.
  • Biased and apathetic probate court judges who refuse to issue restraining orders to protect non-wealthy elder abuse victims, complainants, and whistleblowers from further harm, such as an order preventing a wealthy, politically connected nursing home from retaliating and illegally evicting (i.e., “resident dumping”), in violation of Health and Safety Code § 1432, a frail elder abuse victim whose advocate complains.
  • Biased and corrupt probate court judges who refuse to issue restraining orders preventing wealthy, politically connected nursing homes from engaging in illegal conduct that helps nursing homes cover up further elder abuse, such as an order preventing a nursing home from removing a vulnerable resident’s in-room video camera that has already captured and documented criminal elder abuse.
  • Biased and apathetic probate court judges who fail to enforce restraining orders and hold elder abusers in contempt of court when they repeatedly defy court orders.
  • Near-retiring probate court judges who abuse the essential private judging system that California pioneered and misuse the public courts by cherry-picking the big-money cases to endear themselves to attorneys who will later hire them as private “rent-a-judges” earning up to $10,000 a day to resolve disputes in secret out-of-court settings for corporations, celebrities, and other high-paying litigants.
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