LIKE MOST PEOPLE coming into court, Dr.
Mark Murphy might have expected the judge would help and protect him.
Murphy, which isn’t his real name (he asked not to be identified to ensure
his privacy and security), had amassed millions in the stock
Two years ago, a niece, claiming
concern that Alzheimer’s left the 85-year-old doctor unable to take care
of financial affairs, brought him to court asking that she be named
What happened instead was Judge Diane
Lebedeff appointed three lawyers. One of them, in turn, hired two more
lawyers. All were supposed to be protecting Murphy’s finances. And all
started billing him for their services. So what led Judge Lebedeff to
appoint these particular people to the lucrative
“There was a lot of money involved in
this case, and it certainly has the appearance that appointments were made
based on the relationship that the judge had with these individuals,” said
Robert Abrams, attorney for the Murphy
What’s clear is that all of those
appointed were, like the judge herself, influential members of the New
York County Lawyers Association.
“It was a
feeding frenzy,” Abrams said.
literally wrote the book on guardianship law, is referring to the billing
records that he reviewed last year at the request of Murphy’s wife. He
says what’s troubling is that hundreds of thousands of dollars billed to
Murphy in less than a year by Judge Lebedeff’s appointees were approved by
the judge in full.
“Anybody could put in any
time they wanted and get paid for it,” Abrams
Court-appointed guardian Steven Shapiro
billed for all but 10 calendar days in a six-month period. And on May 10
of last year, Shapiro actually billed for 42 hours of work. That’s $12,600
on a single day.
In a statement, Shapiro says
he did “absolutely nothing illegal or unethical.” As for that overbilling,
he says it was “an inadvertent transcription of 42 minutes into 42 hours.
I was totally unaware of the error until it was brought to my attention.
But what’s maybe most amazing, after
reviewing the original 42-hour bill, is that Judge Lebedeff had ordered it
“It appears to me that her behavior was
clearly inappropriate and has the appearance to me that it was corrupt,”
Confronted last summer by Abrams
with his allegations, Judge Lebedeff withdrew from the case.
Critics say the Murphy case is hardly the only “guardian grabfest.”
Some who say their assets were grabbed demonstrated last
“They are taking over people’s bank
accounts, people’s houses,” said one
“No one is watching the
guardians. No one is watching the judges,” said another. ....
It was seven years ago when taxi driver
Erwin Scharge swerved to avoid a double-parked bus, crashing his cab into
a fire hydrant.
“He was technically dead for a
couple of seconds. I guess that’s what caused his brain damage and his
incapacitation,” said Ashley Scharge, the victim’s son and a radio sports
Ashley Scharge, who was Erwin’s only
remaining relative, asked a court to name him guardian of his father’s
million dollars in assets. Instead, a Queens judge appointed Robert Groh,
a retired Queens judge, as guardian.
listened to me,” Scharge said. “He wanted to charge me rent for living in
my own house.” ....