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Estate funds could remain unaccounted for [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Jan. 9--After 35 days in jail didn't prompt a veteran probate lawyer to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars missing from estates he oversaw, it appears the funds may never be found.

Leonard V. Brady, 83, had invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination last year as questions arose about the money, and last month a judge jailed him on contempt for six months or until he turned over $187,000 in one case.

But Brady's lawyer successfully argued last week that keeping Brady locked up for not accounting for the money was like forcing him to testify against himself. He also asserted, without evidence or explanation, that Brady can't comply with the order to produce the funds.

At a hearing Tuesday, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John DiMotto withdrew the jail sanction but not his finding of contempt, and ordered Brady not to leave the state before another hearing in February.

A company that issued a performance bond for Brady as personal representative now indicates in court records that Brady may have defrauded the surety, which it claims would then free it from any obligation to cover the missing funds.

But the surety also suggests it might pay about $78,000 to settle the matter, if the court can agree that the dead man's sole named beneficiary is the only person entitled to the money.

Surrendering law license

Meanwhile, Brady would be scrambling to wind up his law practice, pay his own debts and defend a lawsuit that contends he misappropriated some $700,000 from another estate.

According to a motion filed by his attorney, Richard Frederick, Brady "is in financial distress." He owes judgments of about $30,000 to a bank and a law firm, lost the heat in his office -- Christian Legal Services -- over unpaid bills, and nearly lost his longtime Brookfield home to foreclosure.

Brady has "agreed in principle" to surrender his law license, but needs to wind up his practice first, Frederick wrote. He declined to talk about the case with a reporter.

A Wisconsin lawyer for more than 50 years, Brady had built a reputation around the Milwaukee County Courthouse as "the grand master of probate," someone who would take on the messiest cases others couldn't or wouldn't handle, mostly small estates with muddied issues of beneficiaries and heirs. Many such cases don't pay much, if anything, but are considered a favor to the courts and part of a lawyer's professional obligations.

That trust he built up over the years may have allowed his practices to go unnoticed by clerks and judges until a lawyer in a much larger estate, worth about $1.8 million, began encountering stall tactics from Brady and a growing paper trail of misused estate assets that led to overseas accounts of "church bonds," according to Brady.

Prosecutors asked federal authorities to look into the matter, and the heirs have sued Brady in a separate court action.

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Once DiMotto was convinced of problems in that case, he ordered Brady off all other cases in probate court and appointed new lawyers to take over. Problems were found in at least a few.

Insurance and houses

The case that landed Brady in jail was the estate of Ronald Menzie, who died in September 2001 at age 50. When the woman he had requested be the personal representative failed to file an inventory, a judge appointed Brady. In 2003 he closed the estate because there were no assets found for probate.

But then a Metropolitan Life insurance policy appeared, and the case was reopened. The proceeds that Brady was supposed to turn over, in the amount of $189,951.20, represented the bulk of the estate. Questions over who might be entitled to how much of the money could be decided next month.

In two other cases, Brady sold houses that were the sole assets of their former owners' estates, one for about $30,000 and one for about $68,000, said John Dobroski, an attorney who replaced Brady as personal representative. All but a few thousand of those proceeds are gone, he said.

Dobroski said he's obtained personal judgment against Brady for those amounts, and might try various ways to collect, or he might seek reimbursement from a fund maintained by the State Bar for victims of lawyer fraud. Unlike in the Menzie case, he said, Brady did not obtain a surety bond, though he was required to do so.

To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.



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