Florida complaint says judge’s ‘invisible hand’ helped wife, a professional guardian for seniors

by WorldTribune Staff, September 3, 2018

A Florida woman who the state has charged with abusing her role as a professional guardian received an early boost into the lucrative field from her then-circuit court judge husband, a report said.

A report by the Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller’s Office prompted the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians to take action against Elizabeth “Betsy” Savitt, according to a Sept. 1 article in the Palm Beach Post.

Elizabeth Savitt at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach. / The Palm Beach Post

The state is seeking sanctions on Savitt which include suspending or revoking her guardianship registration and ordering her to pay restitution.

“The action against Savitt is the first of its kind against any guardian by the guardianship office, which was bestowed new regulatory powers by the Florida Legislature in 2016 after an avalanche of complaints about predatory guardians statewide,” the Palm Beach Post report said.

Related: ‘The way a master owns a slave’: Court-enforced ‘guardianship’ of seniors emerges as national issue, September 2, 2018

In 2009, the report said, Savitt launched her guardianship career with the help of her husband, Circuit Court Judge Martin Colin, who had presided over guardianship cases.

“Court records indicate that his was an invisible hand establishing his wife” as a professional guardian,” the report said.

At the time he was boosting his wife’s entry into professional guardianship, “the judge’s finances were marked by foreclosures, liens and unpaid debt,” the report said.

The guardianship office alleges Savitt violated state guardianship statutes regarding conflicts of interest as she failed to disclose she was married to Colin. Savitt is also accused of failing to act in good faith and behaving in a manner contrary to her wards’ best interests, the Palm Beach Post report said.

Savitt also continues to serve on cases in which she should have been disqualified, according to the guardianship office’s complaint, which notes that Savitt has earned $190,000 in fees in at least 13 cases in Palm Beach County.

The guardian office cited two of Savitt’s earliest cases in which then-Judge Colin appointed lawyer Sheri Hazeltine as an attorney for another party and Hazeltine’s actions led to Savitt becoming a guardian or guardian advocate for a disabled adult, the report noted. The state accuses Colin of improperly transferring cases to fellow jurists, avoiding random assignments by the clerk’s office.

“In the case of a developmentally disabled woman, Carol Dobrzynski, now 75, Colin never entered an order of transfer and therefore was presiding when his wife was appointed,” the report states, citing the guardianship office’s complaint. “The clerk formally reassigned the case, involving a $290,000 trust, nearly four years later.”

The Post found another judge’s signature “appeared on key orders in one of Savitt’s cases over the printed name of Judge Colin. Savitt tapped the joint account of the senior ward and his wife for $18,000 and overdrew it, leaving his widow complaining to the court to no avail, court documents show.”

In another case, “Colin appointed Hazeltine, positioning Savitt to take over a guardianship attached to a trust worth about $680,000,” the report said.

Hazeltine said she stopped representing Savitt after The Post reported that Savitt “was taking fees from the life savings of her elderly wards without prior court approval.”

Hazeltine told The Post: “I regret it (representing Savitt) insofar as my name and my law firm’s name was being repeatedly associated with her and Judge Colin’s and their actions.”

In 2015, Colin told the Palm Beach Post he never presided over cases involving his wife. “He also denied any conflict of interest in granting fee requests for attorneys who represented his wife and appeared in front of him in other cases,” the Post’s report said.

Colin recused himself from 115 cases that involved his wife’s lawyers in the last six months of 2015 “after The Post started asking questions in its investigation,” the report said.

The guardianship office’s complaint uses the term “conflict of interest” more than 30 times.

After the publication of The Post’s initial investigation, Colin was moved out of the guardianship division. He later announced his retirement.

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