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Saturday, July 5, 2008

NY Times: Ex-Guardian Must Repay $403,000 to Judge’s Estate

Ex-Guardian Must Repay $403,000 to Judge’s Estate
The New York Times by TRYMAINE LEE - July 5, 2008

A Brooklyn lawyer and a onetime legal guardian to John L. Phillips Jr., the so-called kung fu judge and the owner of the Slave Theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant, has been ordered to repay the Phillips estate $403,000 that she improperly kept for herself or misused, according to a judge’s ruling. The lawyer, Emani P. Taylor, paid herself fees from the estate that she was not entitled to and used the money to pay family and friends and to make mortgage payments, according to the decision issued on Monday by Justice Michael A. Ambrosio of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Ms. Taylor also kept profits from the sale of some of Mr. Phillips’s real estate holdings, Justice Ambrosio wrote in his decision. The judge’s decision was part of proceedings held to review Ms. Taylor’s handling of Mr. Phillips’s estate.

“It is patently clear that Taylor failed miserably as Phillips’s guardian,” Justice Ambrosio wrote. “At trial she readily admitted not knowing her responsibilities and duties as Phillips’s guardian and repeatedly attempted to shift the blame to others including the court, the guardianship department and prior guardians.” In February, shortly before Mr. Phillips died at the age of 83, a state panel suspended Ms. Taylor from practicing law while it investigated her handling of his estate from 2003 to 2006. Ms. Taylor was the fourth guardian assigned to Mr. Phillips. The previous three guardians had each been accused of various improprieties. Ms. Taylor did not return several calls for comment about Justice Ambrosio’s decision. In an interview in November, Ms. Taylor acknowledged that she paid herself about $300,000 from the judge’s estate but said that she had been paying for clothing and food for him out of her own pocket. “I received a guardianship account that was bankrupt,” Ms. Taylor said at the time. “I wrote an order to the best of my ability, and that order was in consideration of the numerous people that needed to be paid in the future. At the point I was finally able to have the funds to pay persons, I rightfully believe that I was one of those persons.”

In 2001, Mr. Phillips announced a plan to challenge the incumbent, Charles J. Hynes, in the race for Brooklyn district attorney. As a result of an investigation started by Mr. Hynes that some believe was politically motivated, Mr. Phillips was declared mentally incompetent and court-appointed guardians were placed in control of his affairs. Some of Mr. Phillips’s supporters believe Ms. Taylor is a scapegoat and have said that none of the three guardians that preceded her managed his financial affairs properly or ever filed complete taxes on his behalf. “The whole situation prior to her coming in was basically the same thing — stealing of his property, inside dealings,” said Dee Woodburne, one of Mr. Phillips’s supporters. “She just came in after and continued it.” Mr. Phillips, who got his kung fu nickname because he was a 10th-degree black belt, and who left the Civil Court bench in 1994 at the mandatory retirement age of 70, suffered from diabetes and mild Alzheimer’s symptoms, relatives said. He had seen many of his real estate possessions and much of his personal fortune, once estimated at about $10 million, depleted.

What remains, including the Slave Theater and another Brooklyn theater, the Black Lady, may have to be sold to pay off more than $2 million in back taxes. When killings in the 1980s frayed race relations in the city, the theaters became stages for rallies by a new crop of black activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. None of the other guardians have faced any fines or punishment. Justice Michael L. Pesce, the judge overseeing the guardianship case during Ms. Taylor’s tenure, is facing a review by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct for his oversight of the guardianship case. Samuel Boykin, a nephew of Mr. Phillips who lives in Ohio, reacted to news of the decision against Ms. Taylor with mild approval. “As we all know, the hand of justice moves very slowly,” Mr. Boykin said. “And that is a very sad consequence, that my uncle didn’t get a chance to witness some of the things that are taking place now.”


Anonymous said...

happy to see that someone is going to take a big fall on the Judge Phillip's situation. They should all go somewhere, any where but here.

Anonymous said...

I have been long fighting the corruption with the guardainship cases. They should look into the corruption of attorneys getting guardianship over parents who children win medical malpractice suits! For 10yrs I've they bled my daughter's money!!!

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