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Lawyer’s False Guardian Reports Lead to Bar Discipline

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A court-appointed guardian has a variety of responsibilities. One administrative duty: most states require the filing of guardian reports, typically once a year. Those guardian reports alert the court to any changes. They also address whether the guardianship continues to be appropriate.

Who and what must be reported

Arizona, for instance, provides a report form for the guardian to complete. The probate judges (or staff) then review the guardian reports and follow up with anything that concerns them. A guardian must describe the ward’s living arrangements, current condition and daily care status.

Other states have a similar process. In Nebraska, the state where this week’s case report originated, the courts have developed a set of forms for guardians to complete. Question #5 on the Nebraska form asks: “During the past year, how many times and on what dates did you see the ward/incapacitated person?”

Nebraska attorney files guardian reports

Omaha attorney Rodney Halstead has been the principal in a law firm called “Life Care Legal Counselors“. In 2009 a Nebraska probate judge appointed him as guardian for an incapacitated Omaha resident. That meant that Mr. Halstead would be in charge of his ward’s living arrangements, medical care and personal decisions.

It also meant that Mr. Halstead would have to file his annual guardian reports with the court. For the next six years, he did just that. His first two reports said: “I have seen [the ward] about once a month [and] check via phone more often.” In 2012, 2013 and 2014, he wrote: “I have been kept updated mostly by telephone.” Finally, in 2015, he shortened even that description to “updated by telephone.”

There was just one problem with Mr. Halstead’s guardian reports. They were lies.

Mr. Halstead had not visited his ward since 2009. He had not spoken with anyone at the facility, either. If he had, he probably would have found out that his ward moved to a different facility in 2011.

Court discovers the lie

After Mr. Halstead filed his 2015 guardian report the probate court appointed a “visitor” (what Arizona law calls an “investigator”) to make contact with the ward and follow up. The visitor quickly discovered that the information in the guardian reports had been wrong for six years.

It is worth mentioning that Mr. Halstead’s ward was fine, and nothing went wrong as a result of the lies on his guardian reports. Also, Mr. Halstead received no fees to be guardian, so he was not profiting from his misrepresentations. Still, he had lied on court filings, and had repeated the lies for six years.

The Nebraska Supreme Court initiated discipline proceedings against Mr. Halstead. The disciplinary process quickly established that Mr. Halstead had lied, that he acknowledged that he had lied, and that was remorseful. He had not had any other trouble with the courts in his (by then) 25 years of practice.

Still, a lie is a lie. Repeating the same lie over multiple years is especially troublesome. And the courts actually do rely on guardian reports to monitor guardianship cases. The Nebraska Supreme Court suspended Mr. Halstead from the practice of law for one year. State ex rel Counsel for Discipline v. Halstead, November 3, 2017.

As news reports about Mr. Halstead‘s discipline note, part of the reason for strict court oversight is a history of problems with guardianships and conservatorships. Even as Mr. Halstead was beginning his involvement in this case, the local newspapers had been filled with stories about another Omaha lawyer stealing money from her ward’s accounts.

How does this apply in Arizona?

Would the result in Arizona be different? Probably not (though individual facts can make for very different results). When lawyers lie in court documents, it is not only stupid but also very dangerous.

Being a guardian is not a one-phone-call-a-year job. Arizona rules governing professional guardians make clear that the ordinary expectation is for at least a monthly visit. It is of course impossible to know whether a ward is receiving proper care by asking the care provider in a telephone call.

Is it an excuse that Mr. Halstead received no payment to be guardian? No.

Would the same thing happen to a non-lawyer who filled out false guardian reports? Obviously not — suspending a non-lawyer from practicing law makes no sense. But the outcome would likely be harsh, and the cost of the court’s investigation (at least) would likely be charged against the guardian.

One interesting aside: under Arizona rules, at least, longer lawyer suspensions result in an additional penalty. Before restarting practice, a lawyer suspended for more than six months must reapply, satisfy any conditions imposed in the disciplinary order, and establish that they have learned from and been changed by the disciplinary process. Shorter suspensions terminate automatically, but a suspension like the one imposed on Mr. Halstead would be much more serious.

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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.

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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.