By Jared Chausow
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The judge, a transcript of that May 1998 session shows, adamantly opposed the idea. "We have this all the time, where the family seeks to invade the incapacitated person's funds and benefit themselves. I would never allow that, sir," said Targum.
Heitner, the family's attorney, said that the judge was "misconstruing" their intentions and pointed out that Vincent's daughter, Veronica, had been handling her father's finances since the accident, and that his son, Patrick, was a college graduate who would help as well.
The judge responded that the earlier finances had been "minimal. Now you're dealing with millions of dollars." The new assets, the judge said, "should be handled very professionally." The Robinsons "are not versed in property management," she said, "and have no possible background in that particular field." On the other hand, the judge said she was "fully satisfied with Mr. Schlein's competency, his conduct and everything else."
A few weeks after Schlein's appointment, the Robinsons and their attorney complained to the judge that they could never get in touch with Schlein and that he was refusing to return their messages. The family then moved in court to appeal the appointment. Two years later, a five-judge panel on the appellate division unanimously agreed, ordering that Schlein be removed, and that Robinson's daughter and son replace him. The judges ruled that there was "no evidence" that Schlein, "other than through his status as an attorney, was any better suited to manage large sums of money than a layman."
But the Robinsons had already learned that the hard way. Despite repeated warnings, Schlein had somehow allowed a Florida condominium that had been bought by Vincent Robinson for $72,500 to be sold at a foreclosure action by a bank that held a mortgage on it. In a motion to Judge Targum objecting to fees being demanded by Schlein, Heitner said that his firm had served notice frequently over several months on Schlein about the pending foreclosure, to no avail.
Nor was the condo foreclosure the only problem, the family said. Because they hadn't been able to reach the guardian, they'd also been unable to obtain the necessary funds to buy clothes for Vincent Robinson, pay for a personal-care assistant to help him at the nursing home, and even to make payment for a wheelchair they'd sought to buy.
Schlein termed those charges "ludicrous" in a blast back in his own court filings, in which he insisted no one had ever told him that a wheelchair was needed. He also accused the family of having purposely abandoned the condo in order to "blame me for the loss," as he wrote. He then went on to seek court approval to pay himself $35,000 in fees from Vincent Robinson's holdings for the work he said he had done on the matter.
There were others from the Bronx Democratic organization with their hands out as well. Schlein also asked the judge to approve $4,750 for his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the treasurer of the Bronx Democratic Party, who had served as Schlein's accountant and attorney in the matter. In addition, he sought $5,000 to pay Flora Edwards, another attorney friend who is a former law partner of a top Bronx Democrat now a judge. Edwards's role, Schlein said, had been to review the appeals motions made by the family seeking his removal as guardian. In effect, he wanted the family to pay the court costs even though they'd won the case.
Finally, Schlein also presented a bill for $4,500 for the services of a lawyer named Alberto Torres, at the time a law partner of then Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez. Torres's role had been to examine the objections raised by the family concerning Schlein's conduct. Torres punted on that question, never offering his own opinion on Schlein's performance. But he did note in his own filing that, under one interpretation of the statutes governing guardian compensation, Schlein could be entitled to $10,000 more than he'd requested.
Ultimately, the Robinsons decided to drop their objections. Schlein and the other Democratic lawyers all got what they sought. "When push came to shove, the family decided they just wanted to put it all behind them and get Schlein out of their lives," said Heitner. A few months later, in September 2001, Vincent Robinson died. He was 68.
The Robinson family's problems with Stanley Schlein would likely have been buried forever in a Bronx court file if not for a feisty freelance magazine editor named Lisa Goldstein, who waged her own dogged pro se battle against Schlein after her 90-year-old aunt, Sylvia Friedland, became institutionalized and unable to handle her affairs.
Here, too, the incapacitated person, as they are called in guardianship-speak, was loaded. Friedland had about $2.5 million in cash, stocks, and bonds when Schlein was named by Judge Lucindo Suarez, a Bronx Democrat then sitting on a Manhattan bench. It was one of six times Suarez chose Schlein to handle cases.
Because Lisa Goldstein insisted she wanted to share the responsibilities for her aunt's care, Suarez allowed her to be Schlein's co-guardian. To qualify, Goldstein took a required course in court fiduciary procedures.
But the joint arrangement quickly fell apart amid mutual nasty accusations. In a series of letters to the court and various disciplinary panels, Goldstein complained that after she and Schlein were appointed, she was unable to get in touch with him for months at a time. She said that she had had to compile the court-required filings on her own, with no help from Schlein.