Remove Judge C. Jean Stewart
Denver Probate Court, 2nd Judicial District
*Update: C. Jean Stewart announced her resignation in April 2011*
"Denver's probate judge stepping down after 16 years" ~The Denver Post, April 14, 2011
Articles about the 2011 follow-up PERFORMANCE AUDIT of oversight of guardianships and conservatorships:
- “This is not the first time that state auditors have found Colorado's probate courts failed to monitor guardians and conservators. They reached a similar conclusion in a 2006 audit. Last year, The Denver Post reported in a series of stories that Denver's probate-court files included protected wards who had been dead for years and guardians who had not been contacted for five years or more. The Post reported that the court had lost track of an HIV-positive, sexually active ward; let a guardian charge money for reading poetry to a woman with Alzheimer's disease; and failed to notice that a conservator was taking flights to see his girlfriend with his brother's money.”
- “Cammack has filed a lawsuit over her dismissal. Stewart has denied any wrongdoing, but other ex-employees of the Denver probate court have suggested that Stewart got ‘very irritated’ by Cammack's campaign to hold guardians and conservators accountable. ‘The judge didn't like the fact that Caroline was finding all these things,’ one former employee stated in a deposition. ‘[Stewart] told me, 'I don't want to hear all this stuff. We can't take care of all of this stuff.'"
NOTE: Judge C. Jean Stewart was made co-chair of the Protective Proceedings Task Force which was created after the 2006 performance audit and tasked with implementing the State Auditor's recommendations to improve oversight of probate cases.
Articles highlighting why Judge Stewart should have been removed from the bench:
- "In Colorado, contrary to its title, the public administrator is in no way a public employee. Instead, the city contracts the position to the private law firm of Steenrod, Schwartz & McMinimee. Robert Steenrod worked as the probate court clerk referee before opening the law firm as public administrator in 1983. He stepped down to deputy status just this year and Melissa Schwartz has taken over as Denver’s public administrator….When the judge said that Thomas was to have her conservator appointed to the public administrator, [Carolyn] Walker objected. 'We said no, she wants her own attorney. I want someone to act on behalf of her,' said Walker. 'The judge threatened to throw me into jail for contempt.' The probate court also denied [Bernice] Thomas her constitutional power of attorney by blocking her payments to her private attorney Lorraine Stark, who said that the court denied her fees outright. The law firm Theodore Watson & Assoc., LLC was forced to drop Thomas as a client before the proceedings, leaving her without legal representation and a clear understanding of the situation."
- "The reason so many of these judges get retention is that far and away the bench is fabulous, she said. 'Even if you don’t agree with the decision, you can at least understand how they got there. That’s not true with C. Jean Stewart.' Finley became concerned about the judge when representing a former client who uses child support payments to care for her developmentally disabled son. Stewart’s court took control of the child support, Finley said, and is using it as a “slush fund” to pay a guardian ad litem and evaluator that the judge appointed without consulting her client. Finley said that practicing attorneys also oppose Stewart, but are remaining quiet because they must appear before her."
- "Harry Arkin, a Denver lawyer who has practiced for 53 years, disagrees with that assessment. He said Stewart opened an investigation of his niece, the conservator for a brother who lives on $600 a month, after he was late filing a document on his niece's behalf. The case was closed only after the guardian ad litem found nothing wrong, asked to be removed and declined to charge a fee, he said. 'I don't feel Judge Stewart is a competent judge, because of her arbitrary decisions, her personal bias against people she believes have offended her," Arkin said. 'There are attorneys she likes and attorneys she doesn't like.'"
- "The Colorado Supreme Court removed a Denver judge from an emotion-filled probate case, saying the judge improperly jailed a poor, medically ill woman for almost three months after telling her to 'shut up' on at least two occasions. . . .Stewart prejudged the outcome of the case, and allowed 'marked personal feelings' toward Robinson to affect her judgment without hearing evidence from both sides.
- "Stewart declined to discuss the court's decision to fire Cammack, who contends she is a whistle-blower terminated one month after she started complaining about the court's failure to monitor a ward with the AIDS virus."
- "Steenrod never listed her house for sale. Instead, his office took a call from an investor, Ridgemoor Realty, with a special offer. Ridgemoor would pay whatever Steenrod's appraiser thought the house was worth, plus $2,000. In return, nobody else would get a chance to buy it. Steenrod followed an expedient and well-worn path that cleared an estate sale but fell short of getting the maximum price a buyer was willing to pay. He sold the house to Steven Snyder, Ridgemoor's owner, for $266,000. . . Three days later, Snyder sold it for $315,000. . . Last month, at his request, Denver probate Judge Jean Stewart accepted [Steenrod’s] resignation, appointed his partner Melissa Schwartz as his successor and Steenrod as Schwartz's deputy. In a letter, the judge wrote that she did so 'only because I am entirely confident that your successor will serve the city and county of Denver with the dedication and professionalism that has marked your tenure' . . . Asked whether the Denver probate court sought applications from others interested in succeeding Steenrod, court administrator Lee Cole said Stewart 'responded that no others have ever expressed an interest in becoming the public administrator.'"
~ The Denver Post
- "Petrie and Campbell claim that Judge Stewart not only violated Letty's rights, but also Colorado's Probate Code and Code of Judicial Conduct. Of primary concern, they argue, is not just the closed hearing, but a secret visit Stewart paid to Letty on May 23, in which she interviewed the elderly woman 'in lieu of testimony' at the hearing. And then Stewart took it upon herself to act as ‘counsel, expert witness and fact finder’ as well as judge, the lawyers charge. 'I've never seen anything like it,' adds Campbell. 'Everyone I talk to can't believe it.'"
- "'Denver Probate Court has always been an informal, insular court, specially created, with a circle of attorneys and professional fiduciaries and one judge,' Denver attorney [Chris] Campbell said. 'It engenders an old boys' network. That couldn't happen in a worse place than a court where vulnerable elderly people are in danger of losing all their rights. . . . 'Since I’m an outsider, I don’t want to go there with important things because that outside status would affect me. It’s not a level playing field,' attorney John Holland said. 'There’s the sense that there’s a lot of informal decision-making and things are prejudged based on politics or connections between people.'"
- "Secrecy has been a hallmark of this case, particularly when it comes to the judge and her appointees. Two nurses sent by the Denver Police Department to check on Letty were turned away at the door by guardian Florence Jones's aides. When one nurse complained in a deposition that she believed the judge was participating in a cover-up and said she was going to demand an investigation, the judge had the deposition sealed. Stewart's visit to Letty's home was kept quiet. She said she didn't want Judi or John to interfere--nor, apparently, Letty's would-be lawyers or anyone else outside the court. The transcripts from that meeting were sealed."
- "Under Colorado law, the courts are supposed to follow a hierarchical list when choosing a guardian: Spouses, adult children and family friends all rank higher on that list than professional guardians. . . Stewart followed none of these procedures . . . 'It's criminal what they've done to me and my son,' Letty said. 'How could this go on in America? All my rights have been taken away. . . They've taken my money and keep me from seeing my son when he's done nothing wrong.'"
- "On Friday morning, September 1, 2000, just before the Labor Day weekend, Judge Stewart asked if they could wrap up before noon so everyone could have a long holiday. She demurely promised to read Mark's deposition. Sam and his attorney agreed because they were convinced that Mark's own words clearly demonstrated that he had no basis for litigation. In hindsight, this turned out to be an error, because as a result, Mark was not required to present his case and Sam was denied the opportunity to question him.
It was a shock when just a few weeks later Judge Stewart removed Sam as trustee. The main goal in a probate strategy such as Mark's is to get control of the money and the first step is to remove the trustee. One would think that the removal of a decedent’s designated trustee (especially an only child) would be nearly impossible, but if you have the right judge, it's actually fairly easy.
Judge Stewart had several options for resolving the matter before her, including; finding the case lacked evidence, deciding that W.C. had appointed his son as trustee for his own good reasons, questioning Mark's motives by taking judicial notice of the corporate case, or simply freezing all the assets, etc. She took none of those actions, but instead took the most extreme action possible -- one that set in motion the means of depleting W.C.'s life earnings, breaking his son and, of course, enriching the gravy train."
"Ace and Buck in the Probate Pit" ~ Estate of Denial
- "In 31 years as a lawyer, I have never advocated voting “NO” (do not retain) on any judge. However, I have never seen a judge as arrogant, uncaring, ignorant of the law and vicious as Judge C. Jean Stewart."