Thursday, April 18, 2013

PA Supreme Court Appoints New Elder Law Task Force

On April 18, 2013, in a posted press release entitled Supreme Court’s Elder Law Task Force Will Tackle Growing Abuses to Older Pennsylvanians, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced creation of a new Elder Law Task ForceThe initial meeting of the group was held on April 16 and 17, 2013, at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, in Harrisburg, PA.

The Press Release announced that "The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has formed an Elder Law Task Force, chaired by Justice Debra Todd, to study the growing problems involved in guardianship, abuse and neglect, and access to justice. The task force has been charged by Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille with recommending solutions that include court rules, legislation, education and best practices."
The task force is made up of 38 elder law experts, including judges, lawyers and social workers.

The task force will have three subcommittees, one devoted to appointment and qualifications of guardians and attorneys, a second on guardianship monitoring and data collection, and a third on elder abuse and powers of attorney.  The work of the group will take approximately one year.  

“As a society, we have increased concentration on child abuse, but the issue of elder abuse has not kept pace,” said Justice Todd.
“This task force is the judiciary’s attempt to study the issues under its purview and make adjustments now, before the numbers of older Pennsylvanians and the commensurate jump in abuse, occurs." * * *
"The U.S. Administration of Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that for every one case of elder abuse reported, five more go unreported. This is shameful, and we need to do better.” * * *
The appointed members of the Task Force met in Harrisburg on Tuesday, April 16th and Wednesday, April 17th, for introductions, initiation, presentations, and  discussions, and then for organizational activities within the three subcommittees.  During a break, a group photo was taken (reposted above).  I stand in the back row, behind the pretty lady in the red dress, Prof. Katherine Pearson, of Penn State / Dickinson School of Law.

Simultaneously with the announcement, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts posted "a variety of resources" on the UJS website, including high-definition video footage of an interview with Justice Debra Todd, the convener and Chair of the Task Force  (the first time such form of media content was posted on that website), an audio clip of the interview, and a graphic, all of which can be used or distributed freely.

Great opportunities for change -- some in study and development for five years or more -- are now presented by the Legislative branch and within the Judicial system in Pennsylvania, even as programs operated by the Executive branch are refined.  These proposals and changes would affect positively the Commonwealth's senior and disabled populations: 
  • Other proposed and pending legislative measures on similar subjects, but with different approaches.
I applaud and thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices, particularly the Chief Justice and Justice Debra Todd, for this initiative.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Karoly Estates Will Forgery Case Ruling

The Morning Call (Allentown, PA) published a news report entitled Northampton County judge upholds Karoly wills (04/05/13), by Peter Hall, highlighting the most recent development in the Karoly Estates forgery of wills matter: "John Karoly Jr.'s sisters failed to prove he entered forgeries in brother's estate, judge rules."
A Northampton County judge has affirmed a decision that sisters of disgraced Lehigh Valley lawyer John Karoly Jr. failed to prove wills he submitted in his brother Peter Karoly's estate are forgeries. * * * 
In a 31-page opinion Friday, President Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden rejected criticism of retired Bucks County President Judge Isaac Garb's decision that the wills were authentic.
Garb, appointed as special master of the case, presided over a lengthy trial in 2011 and issued his ruling last August. Karoly's sisters asked McFadden to overturn it. * * *

Garb said the sisters failed to establish "by clear, direct, precise, and convincing evidence" that the 2006 wills were "forged and therefore invalid."

Peter Karoly, a well-known medical malpractice lawyer, and his wife, dentist Lauren Angstadt, died in February 2007 when their private plane crashed on approach to a Massachusetts airport.

The Karolys' three sisters charged that John Karoly Jr. fraudulently created wills dated 2006 for the couple — a conclusion also reached by a 2008 federal grand jury that indicted him, his older son J.P. Karoly, and Dr. John Shane, who witnessed the documents. * * *
Since 2007, these will forgery cases and its progeny have twisted and turned, but now appear near resolution, based upon extensive fact findings and trial court review.

Referencing the "burden of proof" test applied to the facts presented by the contestants, the proceedings are instructive under established will contest principles.  

However, the proceedings drew my attention because the United States Department of Justice became involved after an FBI investigation and federal grand jury findings derived from will forgery allegations.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog postings Will Contest from Bethlehem, PA (04/10/07); Trusts & Estates ... and the FBI: Pt. I. (05/22/07); Trusts & Estates ... and the FBI: Pt. II (05/23/07); and Attorney in PA Indicted for Will Fraud (09/26/08).  See also postings by Professor Gerry Beyer on his Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog: The FBI-Will Contest Interface (05/22/07);  Lawyer fakes brother's will (09/28/08), and Judge upholds Karoly Wills (04/07/13).

The local articles reported alleged conduct and resulting charges as news.  However, unless the recent trial court rulings are reversed on appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or Supreme Court, the will contest allegations appear resolved in favor of the surviving brother, John Karoly.

This extended odyssey shows the depth, detail, and delay involved in will contests.  The present status warns us against prejudgment or sensationalism during its progress.

In my prior posting on September 26, 2008, I pondered other possible effects of these proceedings:
To date, this case involves application of federal fraud and conspiracy laws, investigation by the FBI, examination & prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office, with anticipated resolution in a federal court.

This case could become a template for future prosecution of other cases involving intentional fraud in the preparation of testamentary documents offered for probate or for claim.
Although these cases remain very instructive, the collective federal and county court proceedings did not become such a "template" to insert federal laws into state probate matters.  We still rely upon state laws and procedures for resolution of will contests.  In these specific will contests, resolution appears nearly complete.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

PA Orphans' Court Rules Proposed for Sweeping Changes

On April 3, 2013, the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System website posted a news article entitled Input Sought on Proposed Rewrite of 40-year-old Orphans' Court Rules, which announced: "A substantial overhaul of the current Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules, which have remained relatively intact for nearly four decades, is being proposed."

The article continued:
The Supreme Court’s Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee is seeking input from attorneys, judges and the public concerning the proposal, including those comments that may address only a specific rule or series of rules.
Interested parties may submit suggestions, comments, and/or objections in writing to the committee no later than June 13, 2013 to Lisa M. Rhode, Counsel, in the following ways:
(717) 231-9551
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee
601 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 6200
Harrisburg, PA 17106-2635
Proposed new Pennsylvania Orphans' Court Rules (PDF, 56 pages; See also: Official forms as published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, April 13, 2013, in Vol. 43, No.15, beginning at Page 654) -- when revised after consideration of comments to be offered (no later than June 13, 2013) by the public, then finalized by the Committee, and thereafter submitted for adoption by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court -- will be more than five years in the making, about forty years after the last comprehensive restatement of such rules.  

Once adopted, the final version of such new rules would take effect some time thereafter to be applicable statewide to all Orphans' Court jurisdiction matters and in all Orphans' Court Division proceedings in the Courts of Common Pleas in this Commonwealth.

The Proposed New Pa.O.C. Rules 1.1 – 11.6 and Publication Notice and Explanatory Notes are posted in PDF forms on the web page devoted to the PA Supreme Court Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee.  See also: Official forms as published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, April 13, 2013, in Vol. 43, No.15, beginning at Page 654).

The Publication Notice for the proposed new rules states as follows:
The Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee intends to recommend that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacate Orphans’ Court Rules 1.1 through 14.5 and adopt new Orphans’ Court Rules governing the practice and procedures for the areas currently covered by these rules.
The new rules are divided into sections addressing, inter alia, the filing and audit of Accounts, procedures for Orphans’ Court matters raised by citation and petition, pre-hearing and post-hearing dispositions, and rules for practice before the Registers of Wills.
In some cases, the current Orphans’ Court rule has not been modified substantially, but is merely being relocated to a new section based upon the revised structure of the proposed new rules (e.g., Rules governing Specific Types of Petitions are moved from Rule 12 to Chapter IV and Rules governing Guardianships are moved from Rule 14 to Chapter V).
The proposal also contains Explanatory Comments, which accompany certain rules to elucidate upon the addition or modification of certain provisions or to provide additional analysis of the relationship between the particular rule and another Orphans’ Court rule and/or statutory provisions in the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code.
This proposal has not been submitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for review in advance of this publication. The proposal, though, has been reviewed by an advisory group of Orphans’ Court judges appointed by then-Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, and these judges have provided insights, comments, and suggestions incorporated into the proposal that is being published. * * * [Paragraphing added.]
The Explanatory Report notes the objectives of the revision project outlined in October, 2007, and the extent of the revision project since then:
The proposed rule review is intended to:
• Promote standardization of statewide practice and reduce variations caused by reliance on local practice.
• Provide better direction to practitioners and judges throughout the state, especially in counties without dedicated Orphans’ Court divisions.
• Clarify certain procedures involving citation practice and pleadings.
• Harmonize Orphans’ Court proceedings with general civil practice to the extent possible, given the unique subject matter within Orphans’ Court jurisdiction.

This project has continued in earnest for nearly five years. The Committee extends recognition and gratitude to prior Committee Chairs, Judge Calvin S. Drayer and Mary Jane Barrett, Esq., for their leadership and commitment to this project.
The Committee now publishes its proposal and solicits the input, comments and suggestions of practitioners and jurist throughout the Commonwealth, particularly those who practice routinely in the Orphans’ Court divisions of various counties. * * *
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee reviews current rules governing statewide practice and procedure in the Orphans’ Court and recommends new rules as necessary.

The Committee's current Members are: Margaret Gallagher Thompson, Esq., Chair; Lisa Marie Coyne, Esq.; Eugene H. Gillin, Esq.; Neil E. Hendershot, Esq.; Jeffrey R. Hoffmann, Esq.; Paul Kuntz, ex officio; John F. Meck, Esq.; and Honorable Lawrence J. O'Toole.

The Committee is supported by staff members: Lisa M. Rhode, Esq., as Counsel; James F. Mannion, Esq., as Deputy Counsel; and Elizabeth J. Knott, as Administrative Assistant.

I will make a presentation upon the proposed new Orphans' Court Rules during the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, through its Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, from 3:15 - 4:15 p.m., at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Hotel Downtown.

I will speak not as an Orphans' Court Procedural Rules Committee member (for the past six years), but as a PBA-RPPT member during its Annual Retreat.  I will encourage local bar associations and the two statewide PBA sections having an interest -- the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section, and the Elder Law Section -- to offer comments in writing before June 13, 2013.

Other community, governmental, business, and service organizations interfacing with Orphans' Court proceedings should also review the proposed new rules and make comments towards improvement or clarification.