Friday, November 2, 2001
Riverside Estates Scandal Prompts Charges Against Ex-Judge
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Retired Riverside Superior Court Judge William H. Sullivan was charged with misconduct yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Performance for questionable financial dealings with two trusts that continued after his appointment to the bench.
The charges against Sullivan, 73, are the latest fallout from Riverside County’s conservatorship scandal, in which a professional conservator and her attorney drew long prison sentences for using their positions to steal more than $1 million from people whose property they were supposed to be protecting.
The revelations of the thefts prompted county supervisors to question the relationship between the conservator and three deputy public defenders assigned to represent the interests of more than 1,000 conservatees. Then-Public Defender Margaret Spencer was fired after she defended the three and refused to place them on administrative leave.
Spencer’s wrongful-termination suit was thrown out on a summary judgment motion.
The CJP yesterday accused Sullivan, who presided over the county’s probate court during the period and was a longtime probate and estates lawyer in Riverside before his appointment, with:
•Violating conflict of interest rules by continuing to serve as a trustee for a local resident’s living trust after his appointment to the bench, making unsecured loans to himself from the trust, purchasing assets for the trust from other entities in which he had an interest; and using trust assets to acquire property in his own name and then failing to account to the trust for the appreciation in value;
•Presiding over a probate estate worth more than $1 million, despite the fact he had witnessed the will and handled the deceased’s financial affairs before her death and had been given power in the will to appoint a successor trustee; selling to the estate certain notes which he had purchased at a discount, pocketing the appreciation; retaining for himself the interest on payments made on the notes, approving an accounting that did not disclose his interest in the notes, and collecting annual trustee fees;
•Purchasing a conservatee’s home while presiding over the conservatorship advancing on his own motion the date of a court hearing on the sale, thus depriving disinterested parties from an opportunity to bid; and confirming the sale of the property to himself; and
•Violating Government Code ethics provisions by failing to disclose fees he received as a trustee, loans from the trusts, and interests in numerous real properties in Riverside County.
Sullivan’s attorney, Edward P. George of Long Beach, declined to comment on the specific charges. He said that Sullivan was “not a well person,” having had a series of strokes. He added that “everybody I’ve ever talked to [from Riverside County] has spoken of him as a highly respected bench officer.”
That view wasn’t shared by Barbara Jagiello, a San Francisco attorney who investigated Bonnie Cambalik and her company, West Coast Conservatorships, at the behest of a nonprofit organization that helps senior citizens. She expanded her investigation to include the judge’s conduct and filed a lengthy complaint with the CJP.
“I’m happy the commission kept up with” the investigation after Sullivan retired, Jagiello told the MetNews.
Normally, she explained, when an outsider discovers problems with conservators, the matter can be rectified simply by bringing it to the intention of the judge. It became clear that “something [was] rotten in Denmark,” she said, because Sullivan continually refused to hold Cambalik to account for blatant improprieties.
Cambalik is serving a 26-year prison term after pleading guilty to a total of 22 counts of embezzlement by a caretaker, grand theft, perjury and receiving stolen property. Attorney Michael Molloy was convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 16 years, and resigned from the State Bar with disciplinary charges pending.
Sullivan practiced law in Riverside from 1956 until his appointment to the bench by then-Gov. George Deukmejian in 1987. He retired in December 1999, several months after Cambalik confessed to looting estates.
Sullivan briefly returned to judicial office at the beginning of this year, having been named chief justice of the High Court of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. He resigned that post three weeks into his term of office, however, reportedly after officials there learned of Jagiello’s complaint to the CJP.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company