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Court Appointed Attorneys Avoid Contracts and Oversight

Summary:

Attorneys appointed to represent conservatees often act without contracts or court supervision.  Some conservators engage in abusive conduct.  Some attorneys may facilitate abuse for personal gain. 

In San Bernardino County, a conservator unlawfully imprisoned and isolated a conservatee for 15 months.  The court appointed attorney and law enforcement substantiated isolation abuse.

The court appointed attorney opposed the conservatee having visitors because:  It might inconvenience the facility.  The attorney advised the conservator on strategy to facilitate isolation. 

Records contained many indicators of long-term sexual abuse by a male caregiver at an assisted living facility.  The court appointed attorney opposed family’s request to move the conservatee.  He testified that he found no problems with placement or care.

San Bernardino County Local Rules of Court limit court appointed attorneys to $60/hour.  Local rules limit paralegals to $25/hour.  The court appointed attorney invoiced $350/hour for his time and $125/hour for his paralegals.  The court awarded over $150K from the victim’s estate.  Half of those fees were for “services” rendered after the death of the conservatee.

Presiding Judge Marsha G. Slough wrote to the conservatee’s family:

Please be advised that any concerns regarding a lawyer’s conduct should be referred to the California Bar Association for investigation, not the court.

The California Bar Association referred the matter back to the court.   

Existing Law:

Business and Professions Code 6148(a) states in part:

In any case not coming within Section 6147 in which it is reasonably foreseeable that total expense to a client, including attorney fees, will exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), the contract for services in the case shall be in writing.

CEDAR obtained public records establishing that many counties do not execute contracts for court appointed attorneys in conservatorship.  Many counties and courts provide no meaningful oversight.  Courts may not require attorneys to follow fee limits in local rules.

Rationale:

Requiring court appointed attorneys to execute contracts could better define their role in conservatorship and decrease abuse of power.  Requiring court appointed attorneys to follow local rules could reduce financial exploitation and depletion of estates by questionable billing.