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Abuse Of Power

More than a dozen judges and lawyers face misconduct charges after a study by the state court inspector general's office found widespread corruption in the handling of the financial affairs of widows, orphans and the elderly.

The two-year investigation found that lawyers overcharged their incapacitated wards for simple tasks, according to a report released Monday by the state's chief judge, Judith Kaye.

In one case, a lawyer appointed as a guardian for a woman who could not handle her own affairs billed the woman's estate $850 after he and an assistant took a cake and flowers to her nursing home on her birthday. On another day, the estate was billed $1,275 after the lawyer and an employee took her out for a walk and bought her an ice cream cone.

"I'm surprised by the extent of some of the findings," said Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. "At the same time, (I'm) pleased that the spotlight is on it. This is all about reform and changing the system, and not having business as usual."

The report found that judges abused their positions by assigning lucrative receiverships and guardianships to lawyers with whom they had relationships or from whom they received free professional services.

Hundreds of cases were examined from New York City and five counties. The report does not identify any alleged wrongdoers.

Lawyers must go before disciplinary panels and could face disbarment. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct could penalize judges with measures ranging from censure to removal from the bench.

The court inspector general's office will now monitor guardianship appointments, Kaye said.

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