Friday, July 04, 2008

Justice for Profit

Actions Of Probate Judge's Law Partner Prompt Ethics Complaint

A lawyer trying to drum up business for his law firm online recently touted the fact that his firm includes a Connecticut probate judge, a statement that has prompted an ethics complaint with the state.

A real estate investment firm looking for property to buy in probate courts in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey recently posted an ad on a professional networking site looking for probate attorneys.

Micky Fox, a law partner of Brookfield Probate Judge Joseph Secola, responded to the site's ad with the posting: "My partner, Joseph Secola is not only a Probate Judge in Brookfield, CT, but ihe (sic) is also licensed in New York."

Connecticut has 117 probate judges who sit part time and, in most cases, hold outside jobs. For decades, reformers have tried to consolidate the courts to make the positions full time, eliminating the temptation for judges to use their elected office to benefit their practice. So far, the judges have managed to keep the system intact.

Reached Thursday, Secola called the posting a "complete and total mistake" and said his partner, Fox, should have checked with him first.

"He doesn't understand the ethical restrictions I'm under," Secola said. "I don't even put on my letterhead that I'm a probate judge."

Probate Court Administrator James Lawlor said he forwarded the complaint to an ethics committee made up of probate judges. Last year, a Southington probate judge was publicly reprimanded for buying real estate that passed through his court. Since then, rules have been tightened to prohibit such actions.

Contact Kim Martineau at

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