Court Orders Former Guardian to Repay $$
Taken from Retired Judge’s Estate
DA Declines to Pursue Criminal Charges, Refers Matter to Disciplinary Committee
By Charles Sweeney
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
ADAMS STREET — In the case of retired Judge John Phillips’ mishandled estate, a Brooklyn judge yesterday ordered former property guardian Emani P. Taylor to pay back money she took from his estate or face contempt charges.
In an order issued at a hearing yesterday morning, state Supreme Court Justice Michael Pesce ordered Taylor to repay $187,000 she took in the form of 16 checks she wrote to herself from Phillips’ accounts, money taken by Taylor without the court’s permission. In his written order yesterday, Pesce gave Taylor 10 days to repay Phillips’ account or face a finding of contempt.
After being alerted to the missing funds by Taylor’s replacement, current property guardian James Cahill, Pesce referred the matter to Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office for further investigation and possible criminal charges.
In a statement released to the press yesterday, Hynes’ office announced it would not pursue criminal charges against Taylor, but would refer the matter to the Appellate Division, Second Department’s disciplinary committee.
Hynes’ statement read, in part, “While the evidence does not demonstrate Ms. Taylor committed a crime, she may well have violated rules governing an attorney’s conduct.”
Speaking calmly and confidently to the Eagle in a telephone interview hours after the hearing, Taylor responded to the order — as well as the referral to the disciplinary committee — with a mixture of shock and indignation.
“I’m shocked at Judge Pesce for the type of action he’s taking,” Taylor said.
She described her role in Phillips’ estate as three-pronged. At one point or another she said she served as his attorney, his personal guardian, and his property guardian. This particular combination exempts her from the normal rules and regulations governing an attorney’s actions, she said.
“Judge Pesce appointed me to three different roles, and nowhere in the statute does the statute describe me,” Taylor said.
As for the decision that she return the money and hand over the documents, Taylor called it “ridiculous.”
Arguing that she had been “denied due process” in the matter regarding the money removed from Phillips’ estate without the court’s permission, Taylor said, “It’s a ridiculous order. I’ve been denied due process, the court’s decision is based on copied documents.”
Taylor argued that the rules governing an attorney’s actions did not apply if the precise role fulfilled wasn’t described in the statute. Taylor sighed and repeated, “If I was in breach, I would like to see the statute that describes me in the said breach.”
Taylor then referred all further comments to her new attorney, William T. Martin, since her former attorney, William Rouse, did not show up in court yesterday.
According to a copy of the court order provided to the Eagle, Pesce wrote that Taylor “must restore to the estate the amount of $187,000 by Dec. 12, 2006, by 2:30 p.m. Failure by Ms. Taylor to comply with any part of this order will subject her to a finding of contempt of this court.”
Consequences for Taylor include a fine of $1,000 for each day she is not in compliance with the court order.
Ezra Glaser, attorney for Symphanie Moss, Phillips’ property garden and niece, expressed relief that something concrete has been done to get Taylor into compliance with regulations.
“I’m also pleased that he finally ordered her to turn over the necessary files for the new property guardian to do his work in an adequate fashion,” he said.
Glaser called Taylor’s attempt to have the case against her thrown out a ridiculous legal argument. “Her bizarre defense, based on jurisdiction, after attending and taking part in several hearings, was the most ridiculous legal argument I’ve ever heard in a courtroom, and fortunately, Judge Pesce saw through it.”
Phillips in Limbo
While the matter of Taylor allgedly stealing money from the estate and withholding documents was being resolved, the issue of Phillips’ discharge from East Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility in the Bronx has been thrust into the background.
According to Glaser, the issue of Phillips returning to Bedford-Stuyvesant would soon be addressed. “We’re going to schedule a meeting sometime over the course of the next two weeks where adequate planning will be determined regarding his discharge plan,” Glaser said. “We will determine the costs associated with his daily living needs and take care of other essentials.”
Those who Glaser said he has to contact in order to schedule such a meeting at East Haven include those who play a key role in his life, now that the guardianship court is managing his affairs.
“Along with myself, we have to contact his personal guardian, Symphanie Moss; his property guardian, James Cahill; the court-appointed geriatric expert, who has been advising the court; the East Haven home’s committee that handles all discharges — we all have to sit down and hash out all these details before Judge Phillips can return home.”
Phillips himself has lately become depressed about not being able to move into his new apartment permanently, after getting an overnight pass to spend some nights there in the care of Moss, who found an apartment for Phillips one floor below her own, located in his home neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“He’s just down about having to be in the home, particularly around the holiday season,” said Glaser.
For her part, Moss continues to press the issue of getting her uncle home as soon as possible.
She sat and took copious notes during the hearing, listing the dozens of details she said she has to take care of to make sure the process doesn’t bog down.
“I have to make out a care plan for my uncle,” she said. “I already provided them with one, but I guess I’ll have to do it again — or I could just submit the last one.”
In the plan, Moss outlines Phillips’ living situation, his expenses, his medication needs, his out-patient activities at a nearby center for persons with Alzheimer’s Disease, where she said Phillips could spend some part of each weekday.
After the proceedings yesterday, as Moss stood outside the courthouse surrounded by supporters and friends of Phillips, waiting for her attorney to take her to Cahill’s office, she sighed and said, “I’m going right now to pick up a check from Mr. Cahill.”
Asked what the check was for, Moss replied, “A coat for my uncle.”