I object! I sustain me!

Local Judge Suspended for Dual Role as Jurist and Lawyer in Three Cases
Douglas S. Malan
January 7, 2008
The Connecticut Law Tribune
New York Lawyer – News Watch
Richard J. Guliani’s 16-year term as probate judge for the District of Portland included his handling three cases in which he served not only as judge but also as attorney. This conflict of interest earned Guliani a six-month suspension from practicing law, starting Dec. 10 and running through June 5.

Guliani admitted wrongdoing in August, nearly one year after he had served a 30-day suspension for failing to communicate with a client regarding an irrevocable trust worth more than $100,000.

His term as probate judge ended in January 2007 after he declined to seek re-election.

Judge James J. Lawlor, the state’s probate court administrator, filed the grievance after Guliani’s successor in Portland, Stephen E. Kinsella, discovered Guliani’s unethical behavior when reviewing a matter involving the late Vincent W. Olson’s estate, which remains open.

“It was a huge disappointment to me,” Lawlor said. “We still have outstanding issues” because of Guliani’s misconduct.

Kinsella found that in 1998, Guliani represented Olson’s daughter, Shirley, who was executrix of the estate. Guliani granted the daughter real estate from her father’s will without “a finding that it was in the best interests of the parties” involved, according to the determination of probable causeby the Middletown Judicial District grievance panel.

In the Olson case, Guliani ruled that his $15,000 in legal fees were “presumptively reasonable.”

He based the figure on a fee schedule that stated the reasonable fee for the work he performed “would be an amount not more than 4.5 percent of the gross taxable estate.”

“This schedule is used by some Probate Courts to determine if fiduciary and legal fees claimed in an estate are reasonable and not subject to further question or inquiry by a Probate Court,” he explained to Olson in a November 1998 letter.

The local grievance panel also determined that Guliani used the probate court office for his own private practice. Letterhead for Guliani’s law firm that he used in correspondence with Olson includes a telephone and fax number that connects to the probate court offices in Portland.

Lawlor also charged, and the grievance panel confirmed, that Guliani involved himself in two other files as both attorney and judge. These included an estate for which he improperly rescinded an admission of the will to probate and an estate for which he served as witness to a will and had a claim filed for $650 in legal services.

Guliani, who was admitted to the bar in 1977, did not respond to a message left on his answering machine seeking comment.

His disciplinary history includes three reprimands in 2004 for failing to pay fees associated with real estate closings and failing to respond to a grievance.

Guliani did not respond to Lawlor’s complaint but did sign his name last August to the presentment order that led to his suspension.

Lawlor said recent legislation has empowered his office to remove cases to other judges if he determines it necessary, though he does not have the power to sanction judges.

“We have more ability to intercede and ensure that services are being delivered properly,” Lawlor said.

Portland attorney George A. Law was appointed trustee for Guliani’s clients. He filed a motion in late December asking the court for guidance in handling the matter because Guliani has failed to communicate or cooperate with him.