Thursday, September 4, 2014

Probate staff attorney accused of misconduct

Probate staff attorney accused of misconduct (CT)

A three-judge panel will decide later this month whether Debra Cohen should be fired from her post as a staff attorney in the Office of the Probate Court Administrator.
The hearing follows accusations that Cohen, who has been on paid administrative leave since last November, acted as trustee of people’s estates and paid herself more than $33,000 in conservator fees while she was also being paid for her supervisory role in the statewide probate office. She is also accused of keeping supervisors in the dark about that trustee work, going so far as to allegedly conceal fees she paid herself.
If true, the accusations, which are outlined in a letter from Probate Court Administrator Paul Knierim, represent a direct conflict of interest since Cohen was in charge of training probate judges and court staff and providing input to those same people about how to handle probate cases.
George Kelly, the attorney who will represent the Office of the Probate Court Administrator at the disciplinary hearing, declined comment about the pending disciplinary matter. Cohen’s attorney, Marc Mercier, did not return a phone call requesting comment.
In the letter, dated May 28, Knierim asked that Cohen be fired, and in the interim, her paid suspension be downgraded to unpaid while the three judges decide her fate. The hearing before judges Barbara Bellis, Robert Devlin and Maria Kahn is scheduled for Aug. 25-27 in Hartford Superior Court.
It’s unknown if the case has been referred to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Probable cause for a grievance would have to be found before the office would investigate whether Cohen should be punished beyond whatever the judges determine.
The letter from Knierim says Cohen’s financial stake in four probate matters “constituted outside employment that impaired her independence of judgment” and colored her ability to give judges and court staff “sound, objective and independent” legal advice. Probate courts can approve trustee fees, impose fines for breaching trustee duties and exonerate trustees from personal liability.
In addition, Cohen didn’t provide her employer notice of the conflict of interest, Knierim wrote. On the contrary, she reportedly tried hiding her trustee duties from supervisors, who were alerted only after a probate court staff member found out that Cohen was acting as a trustee for the estate of John DeRosa and questioned whether a staff attorney should be doubling up as a trustee. Cohen was told by supervisors she had to resign her trustee duties immediately.
Despite that order, she continued acting as a trustee in three other matters, officials said. She also attempted to collect fees in the DeRosa matter, after being told not to do so, according to Knierim’s letter. The letter also alleges other financial misdeeds, including an alleged “deliberate attempt” to conceal how much she paid herself while acting as conservator of the estate of Sandra Brozna.
A hearing in East Hartford Probate Court found Cohen was ordered to reimburse $33,500 in conservator fees, but repaid only $10,000.
Probate Staff Attorney Accused of Misconduct
Allegations include working secretly as a trustee
Isaac Avilucea
August 15, 2014
The Connecticut Law Tribune


  1. Nice post! We know the judges, the other attorneys, and the nuances of the courts which best assures you'll receive an optimal outcome in court.Thanks.probate lawyers

  2. This is so interesting. I have an attorney by the name of xxx xxx in Arkansas who is doing this kind of a thing with my aunt's estate in Arkansas by removing me as Executor for his own gain and malicious intent. I live in Washington State and this attorney is setting a hearing and doing everything he can to cause issues. My brother died and I am the successor in the Will of my aunt.

  3. I wish I could get some advice on this one....loop holes.that they will do as I have scheduled surgery and no hearing for me.

    1. Can you get removed from Excecutor with no reason. I am excecutor of the will

  4. Alice, They must have a reason. Unfortunately, this Shark has many times witnessed the crooks in the Probate Court of Cook County fabricate a "reason" and the corrupt judge allows it without discussion. ProbateShark

  5. That is very sad and I will be going to Arkansas from Seattle to get to the bottom of it. Can a wife of a deceased Executor of a will of a deceased aunt who died three months earlier than (my brother) wife's husband. Not probated in court and wife tried to cut me out of the will through my brother. The wife has not done anything for probate for two years and now wants money. How can I find property laws in Arkansas. I am the successor to this will. It is the attorney that I hired and now he states he is representing the ESTATE and I have paid him 3,500 already. What a sad situation, I am in at this time...

  6. Thank you for a great article... I like the valuable info you have provide on your article.... Really I'm impressed with how much you have worked together to make this blog so enjoyable...Good luck for next... Keep posting...
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