Media coverage reminds of need to shine light on dark side of estate management (TX)

Piling on or piling up? As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faces felony state securities fraud charges, a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed suggests additional probate misconduct on the heels of a Houston Chronicle article detailing the state’s top law enforcement official’s questionable role in a Collin County case. While some may characterize both the Chronicle and Morning News articles as “hit pieces,” the abuse described routinely occurs in probate venues and/or via the use of instruments such as a will, trust, guardianship or power of attorney. With that, the patterns merit discucssion.

Probate abuse knowledge provides three specific reasons to not so easily discount these allegations: classic cases of state-assisted estate looting are described; the venue is known for legal impropriety and the Chronicle article comes from an experienced writer with high credibility in writing on probate issues.

Additional perspective on the Hunt family case as detailed by the Chronicle is available in EoD’s Hunt family estate case fits probate abuse pattern, court history column.

The Morning News op-ed discusses the case of Charles Jesse Gleaves, a former Paxton client who alleges that the state’s top law enforcement official and Collin County Probate Court Judge Weldon Copeland targeted the estate of his now-deceased son, an estate that reportedly included proceeds from a large medical malpractice settlement.

In More reasons to question Ken Paxton’s integrity?, Morning News columnist Tod Robberson recounts how “long before Paxton decided to run for attorney general” he received an “inch-thick folder full of documents” via a Collin County resident. The file contained information from Charles Jesse Gleaves, a former Paxton client, claiming “he was cheated out of an estate settlement that included a payout for a large medical malpractice claim against a doctor who treated Gleaves’ son in 1996.” The son’s 2004 death was the start of Gleaves’ problems.

Robberson further writes:

Gleaves, whose writing is very difficult to decipher, specifically mentions a relationship between Copeland and Paxton in his allegations and descriptions of a conspiracy that led to his major financial losses and loss of his son’s estate. His file sat on my desk for years because I had such a hard time figuring out what he was trying to say. But it was clear that he was angry about having the estate to which he was entitled split apart and taken out from under him. He felt he was cheated.

The disjointed files and rambling narratives are familiar. These cases are often long, complicated and often involving many players. Few will take the time to write a full and measured accounting of what has transpired; even fewer can do so in a well-organized manner that helpfully communicates case details.

The anger and frustration is evident. People don’t believe the target’s story. Something must have been done to deserve the situation. Credible assistance is hard to find, even harder – sympathy.

Stories of conspiracy may sound far-fetched yet actions the average person contends “can’t happen” can and do every day – especially in probate actions.

The sense that no one understands your particular case happens regularly as also does the sense that your case is unique. Despite this belief, easily identifiable patterns are routinely seen.

Expecting a stranger to give hours, even days or more, of their time reviewing scores of disjointed documents isn’t realistic, but desperation and limitless expectations make this a common occurrence. Paying for such work would be outrageously expensive while offering no guarantee of a productive final outcome. That’s why people want it done at the expense of others. These practical realities create more frustration.

Media exposure is always desired, but realistically, it isn’t necessarily the “silver bullet” sought for solving the target’s problem.

Probate abuse is getting far more attention than it used to. While many reporters still don’t get the contrived nature of these cases and the organized culture of corruption surrounding probate courts, some – like Olsen whose track record on probate recording goes back nearly a decade – do. Regardless, though, media personnel have constraints on their time and resources, constraints that don’t always allow the intense effort probate abuse reporting can require.

As Robberson intimated in his Morning News piece, you can review information and get a sense – a strong sense – that something is amiss, but what do you do with it? And in what form, venue and with what reasonable expense (time and other) involved? Might reporting on this case incite legal liability? After all, you are reporting on people willing to contrive litigation. These are questions not always easily answered and probate abuse targets don’t always welcome responses.

A probate abuse target sounding angry or what some consider unhinged is hardly rare. Immense financial and emotional pressures can take a toll on even the strongest of people. Quests to obtain assistance being met with roadblocks and brick walls, court hearings suggesting a stacked deck, people discounting accurate accounts of your experience. The sanest person can become overwhelmed.

These proceedings can – and often are orchestrated – to wear down the strongest of resistors. Those with known personal issues are appealing targets as existing vulnerabilities play to the legal predator’s advantage.

Experience shows probate courts often function as well-organized units in which a judge has a circle of friendly attorneys and other court-related personnel working cases to ensure the creation of ongoing, lucrative revenue streams. This pattern plays out across Texas and across the nation.

It also makes finding honest, reliable counsel an even greater challenge. Lawyers with integrity may shy away from involvement in even meritorious cases as fighting one’s local probate court machine can be bad for long-term business prospects.

Instead of a trustworthy advocate, too regularly found is dependency on those who stake their welfare on good relations with court personnel and opposing counsel more so than with their own clients.

Pricey legal practitioners without integrity are seen working cases to self-interested ends. These attorneys can “churn” cases creating billable hours and the appearance of progress until client expectations demand more strenuous, potentially contentious action, at which time the case is dropped leaving the practitioner with a lucrative payday and a frustrated client back at square one.

Legal perpetrators operate at “cost” while probate abuse targets pay “retail” for any services rendered. This is not lost on the perpetrator as they routinely run down the clock waiting for resolve and/or funds to run out. Targets may see – or at least suspect – such an action is underway, but intrinsic probate corruption can make combating this tactic easier said than done.

Steal from a bank, it’s a crime. Funds withheld or diverted from an estate relegate harmed parties to the “pay-to-play” civil court system, which is expensive and, for many, cost prohibitive. Rarely are these actions prosecuted as crimes.

And the idea of targeting trust funds received for a physically or mentally impaired individual is hardly original. As said, patterns repeat. That’s what makes them patterns. Lawyers involved pursuing and negotiating such actions aren’t always inclined to return control to family members once a settlement is reached. Courts enjoy enduring authority.

Actions often focus on a primary target while simultaneously creating collateral targets (i.e., family members, friends, etc.). Vulnerability is a magnet for probate abuse practitioners. Because target neutralization is key, the elderly, the disabled or those otherwise challenged (physically, mentally or emotionally) have great appeal. These actions, however, are by no means limited to such populations. Estate of Denial® believes that exploitation of any individual is wrong.

While Ken Paxton’s guilt or culpability in these cases is not known, those with probate abuse familiarity find its signs quite well known.

Probate abuse is a dark, ugly business. The guise of respectability enables many bad acts to occur. The need for shining light on the dark side of estate management continues.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist. As a contributor at Watchdog Arena, Raging Elephants Radio and Examiner Austin, she writes and speaks on a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the creator and online producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses probate abuse via wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney as well as other taxpayer advocacy issues.

Commentary, Featured
  • manny

    Great article. I agree with you.