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Lawyer Loses Her Own Case, Faces Bar Disciplinary Action

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Sherri K. apparently thought her stepfather Clifford H. (the court opinion does not disclose family names) needed protection. She asked the California courts to appoint her as conservator, and she alleged that there was an emergency requiring immediate action. Without giving notice to her stepfather or other family members she scheduled a hearing and secured appointment as temporary conservator of Clifford’s person and estate.

The court’s order specifically directed the other family members to surrender Clifford to Sherri’s custody, but they refused. In response Sherri filed a request that the rest of the family be held in contempt of court for refusing a valid court order. She also filed petitions alleging that Clifford had been subjected to elder abuse, and the court then issued orders restraining the family and directing them to appear to “show cause” why the orders should not be made permanent.

Although unusually nasty and litigious, the tragic story of Clifford H. would not, unfortunately, be all that uncommon—except that Sherri is herself an attorney. The legal proceedings that followed demonstrated that lawyers have a special responsibility to see to it that the courts are not misused.

Sherri’s mother Jean H. hired a lawyer of her own and objected to the conservatorship and to the temporary orders. The court appointed an attorney to represent Clifford, and that attorney also objected. Sherri ultimately withdrew some of her requests, and the court denied the rest. Then the question of attorney’s fees had to be resolved.

Though she had been unsuccessful, Sherri sought over $45,000 in fees and costs for herself and her attorney. Meanwhile, her mother and siblings asked the court to order Sherri to pay their attorneys’ fees of almost $18,000.

The court ordered Sherri to pay her own attorney’s fees, but did allow her $15,000 in fees and costs to be paid from her stepfather’s estate. At the same time, however, the court ordered Sherri to pay $10,000 of her mother’s and siblings’ attorneys’ fees.

Sherri appealed, arguing that she should have been awarded all her own attorney’s fees and not required to pay any of her family’s fees. The California Court of Appeals forcefully disagreed, going so far as to rule that her appeal was frivolous.

In addition to the earlier order Sherri was directed to pay over $10,000 more in fees to her mother to cover the costs of the appeal. Noting that the conservatorship and the appeal were obviously motivated by Sherri’s hatred of her family rather than a desire to achieve a just result, the court also ordered her to report herself to the State Bar of California for disciplinary action. Conservatorship of Clifford H., November 21, 2003.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.