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Legal Ethics

Newspaper: ‘Weak-Kneed’ Discipline Council Stumbled in Probate Judge Matter

Posted Oct 4, 2010 1:58 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In a 2004 will, Josephine Smoron left almost all her considerable assets, which included a dairy farm, to her longtime caretaker. A subsequent estate document in 2006 explained that she had expressly disinherited several churches.

But as she lay dying in 2009 her court-appointed conservator transferred her assets to two trusts. They, upon her death, were to provide her assets to churches she had expressly disinherited in her will. And, after her death and a probate court okay of the trust arrangements, the houses of worship made arrangements to sell her property to a developer for $18 million, recounts the Hartford Courant in a blistering editorial late last month.

A "weak-kneed" Council on Probate Judicial Conduct merely censured Southington Probate Judge Bryan Meccariello last month, when it should have sought to remove him from office, the newspaper contends.

A subsequent Hartford Courant editorial notes that Meccariello not only serves as a judge but is a real estate investor and represents investors as their legal counsel.

Although the judge has decided not to run for reelection, the editorial calls for him to step down from the bench immediately.

A probate court review of all cases in which the conservator and attorney in Smoron's matter also had a role is an appropriate first step toward better oversight, the article continues. However, the earlier editorial also calls for state prosecutors to look into what it describes as the "hijacking of the Smoron estate."

Neither editorial contains any comment from Meccariello. But in an earlier Hartford Courant news article about the censure over what the council called a "grave injustice," the judge is reported to have said that criticism of him concerning the Smoron case was overblown and the censure was an appropriate action.

Although "mistakes were made," accusations of conspiracy and corruption against him weren't upheld by the council, Meccariello pointed out. "I hate to use the phrase 'move on,' but we have to get back to the cases pending in this court," he told the newspaper.

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