In Debt and Under Fire, Attorney Grant Goodman Has Found an Unusual Pool of Clients: the "Victims" of Probate Court
Just about everybody who came into contact with Edward Ravenscroft in 2008 concluded that he needed some serious help.
Thanks to a bad crack habit, Ravenscroft, then 47, had burned through more than $1 million in two short years — with little to show for it. As an heir to the Abbott Laboratories fortune, Ravenscroft was rich, but he was spending his money way too quickly, and stupidly. Even as his Scottsdale home was falling into foreclosure, he gave away $160,000 on a whim.
As is often the case with drug addicts, Ravenscroft started behaving erratically, leading to arrests for three different drug-related felonies in the span of one month. While on probation, he was arrested in California and charged with attempted sexual assault, battery, and domestic violence. Shipped back to the Maricopa County Jail, he was looking at prison time.
Sarah Fenske feature
In court papers, Ravenscroft admitted that, in addition to his drug problem, he was mentally ill. His defense lawyer wrote that Ravenscroft described himself as bipolar and obsessive-compulsive. Three different doctors agreed. So did the court-appointed psychiatrist who examined him in jail.
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That diagnosis may have made all the difference. Under a program launched by the county's presiding judge, criminal defendants with mental illness end up in a special court to assess their competency, and then, if need be, referred to probate court for help. Probate court deals with people who are legally incapacitated: anyone who can't take care of themselves or manage their finances because of mental illness, old age, or disability.
Sent to probate in January 2009, Ravenscroft was assigned a guardian ad litem to fight for his best interests, even if Ravenscroft had no idea what they were. (In this case, that entailed helping Ravenscroft get well enough to check into rehab.) As Ravenscroft's case progressed and he continued to spiral out of control, he also got a guardian (to take care of him), a conservator (to watch over his money), and a lawyer (to express his desires in court).
And then, slowly, Edward Ravenscroft got better.
It took a while: He cycled in and out of four rehab facilities. From March to September 2009, he overdosed four times.
Today, he's been sober eight months. He takes his medication and is preparing to live on his own. He'd been in probate for a little over a year when Probate Court Judge Karen O'Connor terminated his guardianship last month. He is, she said, capable of taking care of himself.
Sounds like a happy ending, right?
Not if you're Grant Goodman. The Phoenix-based attorney is convinced that the whole thing was a scam to steal Ravenscroft's money.
Goodman was inspired by the Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts, who decided to take on the probate system after reporting about one spectacularly expensive probate case. Roberts' columns have drawn such outrage that Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch commissioned an appellate court judge to investigate the system.
Goodman filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family Roberts has been writing about. But he didn't stop there: He's also filed racketeering lawsuits on behalf of two other people found in probate court to be incapacitated.
All three lawsuits accuse his clients' court-appointed guardians, conservators, and lawyers of acting as a "syndicate" to defraud them of their assets.
Those people may have helped Edward Ravenscroft get off drugs, get into rehab, even stay alive after (several) overdoses. But Goodman says they're the bad guys.
He's the good guy. "Who's going to protect these people, other than lawyers like me?" he asks.
The Republic's Roberts apparently agrees. She devoted an entire column to Goodman's crusade, painting him as a savior.
But a growing number of probate court observers worry that Grant Goodman is less a white knight than a shark who smells blood in the water — and that he intends to use Maricopa County's most vulnerable for both good publicity and a fat payday.
Grant Goodman does not believe that Edward Ravenscroft was ever truly mentally ill. He calls his client's court-appointed psychiatrist — the well-respected Jack Potts — a "hack."
"How many people do you know who are on some form of Xanax, Lexapro — any mood stabilizer?" he asks. "Everybody I know has a personality defect. That doesn't mean they're incapacitated and need protection."
Suffice it to say, that kind of opinion is music to the ears of the people declared incapacitated in probate court, many of whom are convinced they don't need help despite all signs to the contrary. Even Ravenscroft, who once admitted that he had serious issues, began to chafe under the court's restrictions soon after getting sober: Why couldn't he just buy what he wanted to buy? Why were these lawyers telling him what to do? Goodman's willingness to fight on his behalf surely vindicated his belief that he was being ripped off.
But if Goodman is a dream come true for the people declared incapacitated in probate court, it's hard to imagine a worse nightmare for the lawyers and judges who handle their cases. Goodman's crusade has been his first introduction to probate court — and he's landed in its polite halls like a Scud missile.
All three of Goodman's lawsuits have been greeted with consternation by the parties involved. As with any complex organization, they acknowledge, there are surely some bad apples working in probate. But many lawyers who practice in probate are proud of the work they do. Their job can be thankless and pays less than many other specialties of the law. But they truly believe they're helping people.
They point to Ravenscroft's case as proof that they are doing good — not proof of their corruption.
Goodman, clearly, likes the idea of being the court's "worst nightmare." He's taking on the system, he says; of course they all hate him. "I'll be the Antichrist before all this is done," he says cheerfully.
When they're speaking freely, though, the lawyers who work in probate court say they're not afraid of Goodman's advocacy — they're afraid of his motivations.
"We see people being exploited all the time," one lawyer says. (He declined to be named because he fears a lawsuit from Goodman.) "And when I hear him talking, I get my suspicious nature turned up."
Indeed, Goodman has a checkered history. He left his law practice to start a business in the mid-'90s, but the enterprise collapsed when Goodman's partners accused him of stealing as much as $4.5 million from the company's coffers. After his own company's general counsel reported him to the State Bar of Arizona, the Bar's investigator found probable cause that Goodman had committed major ethical violations. (Though that finding is serious, the Bar never actually took action against his law license.)
Goodman has been attempting to litigate, and re-litigate, claims relating to the company's demise ever since, creating a seven-year record of fruitless action.
He's personally racked up judgments worth more than $24 million, yet he keeps trying to appeal. He's taken to suing both the lawyers who've opposed him and the judges who've presided over his cases. A bankruptcy court judge recently concluded that Goodman is a "vexatious litigator" and banned him from filing further lawsuits related to the matter without first getting her permission.
That's an extremely unusual action — and certainly sends up a red flag for most prospective clients. But if few people in their right mind would hire Goodman to represent their interests, well, there are always people who aren't in their right minds.
Edward Ravenscroft may well be Exhibit A.
At a hearing March 24, Ravenscroft's probate lawyers forced Goodman to hand over the contract that he signed with Ravenscroft. In it, they learned that Ravenscroft agreed to pay Goodman $100,000 — just for filing suit. He also stands to get 35 percent of the profits if the litigation is successful.
Even worse, those lawyers detailed under oath how Goodman had already contacted the company holding Ravenscroft's stock. (Other than his modest home, almost all of Ravenscroft's assets are tied up in stock holdings, apparently worth about $5 million, minus a $2.8 million line of credit Ravenscroft took out against the stock prior to his crack binge.) Goodman asked for $80,000 in stock to be transferred to him for safekeeping.
It's not clear whether that was meant to supplement his $100,000 fee or help pay it. Goodman insists he was merely trying to stop Ravenscroft's conservator from enriching itself.
But the bold move alarmed Ravenscroft's probate court team. It looked like the sort of financial exploitation they're usually tasked with stopping: someone going behind their back to ask for assets to be transferred to them.
Jack Potts, the court-appointed psychiatrist who's worked on Ravenscroft's case for more than a year, testified that he believes the fee agreement continues Ravenscroft's pattern of allowing himself to be exploited financially.
He noted that Ravenscroft's only income comes from his stock holdings, leaving him with roughly $160,000 a year to live on. Yet the guy just agreed to spend $100,000 in one lump sum.
"I think he's a vulnerable adult," Potts testified. "And I think it's clear he's a vulnerable adult. Prior to this conservatorship . . . he gave a cashier's check for $160,000 to a recently released convict from the Department of Corrections.
"And I think he's such a big heart and he's such a good man that what does is he gets suckered."
Grant Goodman's Web site says that he's been a litigation attorney for 25 years. But that's not exactly true.
Yes, Goodman has been licensed to practice law for that long. But in 1996, after just over a decade as a lawyer, he took a seven-year break to run a cement company, a time in which, he would later attest to the State Bar of Arizona, he had no clients and "rendered no legal advice." After that, Goodman spent another seven years litigating claims related to the demise of his business.
It's not clear exactly how many other cases he's taken on in recent years. It is clear, however, that he's been his own client more often than not. He boasts at great length about his skills in business litigation and his expertise in bankruptcy court, but when asked about cases that he's won, he demurs. "I only started this firm in probably the last quarter of 2009," he says.
Goodman's assistant originally telephoned New Times several times, inviting a reporter to a hearing on the Ravenscroft case and pitching a few stories, too. Not surprisingly, Goodman welcomed New Times to a face-to-meeting in his conference room. (A longtime Arcadia resident, he now lives in the Encanto neighborhood and practices out of a suite in a low-slung complex just west of Biltmore Fashion Park.) The conference room has few personal touches: two copies of Michael Lewis' latest book on the financial collapse and a hard hat from his days in the cement business.
In court, Goodman can be extremely abrasive. In person, though, the small, balding man is soft-spoken.
Everything that a rational person might view as a strike against him, Goodman is happy to paint as a plus. Yes, he has a history of litigation. He freely volunteers that the State Bar was seriously investigating him. The demise of his business and the subsequent fallout, he claims, made him what he is today: a guy willing to take on the system and, he says, a guy who knows how to do it.
"What may look to you as some guy tilting at windmills was really an education," he says. "That was a very comprehensive case — that I now use for the benefit of my clients."
Goodman grew up in Sunnyslope. His father died when he was a teenager, he says, and he got a job at a cement company owned by a friend of the family. After graduating from ASU, he went back to work for that company, selling cement and eventually making enough to pay for law school.
Cement was in his blood. In 1996, Goodman started a ready-mix cement company, which expanded into a host of related entities. Goodman's companies owned the trucks, the mining operations, the cement plants, and the company that insured them.
Even in the unsexy cement biz, Goodman had a knack for earning good publicity. He got barrels of positive ink when he converted his entire fleet to run on biofuels in 2001 — and the local "Entrepreneur of the Year" award from Ernst & Young.
In 2002, the Arizona Republic reported that Goodman had donated $80,000 to help the Salvation Army after the newspaper detailed how children's Christmas wishes were going unfilled due to a shortage of funds. "I had the money, and I did what I needed to," he later told the newspaper. Goodman made the news again that year after he was chosen as the only Arizona franchisee for the re-emerging Bob's Big Boy chain.
To Republic readers, Goodman must have appeared to be on a roll. But by the time his cement company's success was written about in the national business magazine Entrepreneur just one year later, the company, ironically, was imploding. The bank claimed Goodman was in default, and his company's general counsel accused him of using investors' money to buy jewelry and a series of expensive sports cars, including an Aston Martin, two Mercedes, and a Lexus for his wife.
Ultimately, investors would accuse Goodman of stealing as much as $4.5 million.
In a deposition, the company's lawyer, Robert Porter, detailed how he learned that Goodman had taken money out of the company.
Porter said he learned that Goodman had bought his wife a $77,000 Lexus. According to his deposition, Porter innocently asked the company's chief financial officer, "When is that guy going to run out of money?"
"And he said, 'What do you mean his money? He's not spending his money.' And that's when it started," Porter recalled. (Through his attorney, Porter declined comment for this story.)
Porter tried to deal with the situation, he explained in deposition: "I put together what the accountings for the time period described . . . I read the ethics rules, I consulted an attorney, and then had a couple of meetings with Grant trying to get it rectified."
But Goodman was unrepentant, Porter testified.
"He just ranted and raved and yelled and screamed, and I told him — I just kept telling him what I knew and what I thought and what he had to do," Porter recalled. "I told him he had to replace all the money that he had wrongfully taken." But Goodman insisted the money was his. "I told him, as far as I was concerned, he could go to jail or prison for what he had done and he needed to do something about it."
In his deposition, Porter was questioned about whether Goodman denied taking the money.
"He couldn't," Porter testified. "It was black and white."
What seemed black and white to Porter, however, became an absolute mess in court. For one thing, Goodman would sue Porter, unsuccessfully, for legal malpractice. For another, he tried to get a jump on his biggest creditor, Comerica, and his investors by suing them, too.
Again and again, his efforts failed. The cement companies all disintegrated in bankruptcy; Goodman is still on the hook for an $18.2 million judgment from Comerica, among others. (He's paying it off, he says, with 25 percent of his income being garnished every week. He has never filed for personal bankruptcy.)
But the waters were muddy enough that Porter's dire predictions never came true. Goodman has never faced criminal prosecution. Nor has he ever been disciplined by the State Bar.
Initially, a State Bar investigator found probable cause that Goodman had violated several ethical rules. The rules in question say that a lawyer is guilty of ethical misconduct if he "commit[s] a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer" or "engages in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."
But two years later, a new probable-cause panelist dismissed the charges without explanation. Rick DeBruhl, the Bar's spokesman, tells New Times that the investigation was put on hold for a time to allow the related civil litigation to run its course. After that, the Bar's new probable-cause panelist, Edward Novak, looked at the case with a fresh eye and decided to close it.
"There was not enough clear and convincing evidence to move forward," DeBruhl says.
Goodman acknowledges that he'd pushed back hard, using the Bar process to get discovery on the people who complained about him. "They can't have that," he says. He boasts that his tactics worked: "The president of the state Bar dismissed every complaint against me, with prejudice."
That left Goodman free to continue his campaign against the entities that he blamed for his company's destruction. He did so, filing lawsuits with a vengeance.
One example? One of Goodman's creditors had sued him in the wake of the company's bankruptcy in 2004, claiming that Goodman had signed a personal guarantee. After more than a year of litigation, six days of trial, and one day of deliberations, a jury agreed, saying that Goodman owed California Portland Cement Company $5.2 million.
But Goodman didn't see that as the end of the matter. One day after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell refused his motion to vacate the judgment, Goodman filed suit — against California Portland Cement, its lawyers, and Campbell himself.
Eventually, Goodman would sue Campbell no fewer than three times and California Portland Cement just as many. He became convinced that everybody was in cahoots because Campbell eventually left the bench to take a job at Osborn Maledon, a firm that Goodman had been fighting against on yet another matter.
Goodman claimed he'd sent an e-mail to Campbell at Osborn Maledon long before he officially worked there — yet the e-mail never bounced back.
He concluded that Campbell was secretly working for the firm while on the bench.
In a phone interview with New Times, Campbell notes that it isn't unusual for a judge to get sued. But Goodman's e-mail theory was something altogether new.
Campbell compares Goodman to former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, whose racketeering case against judges and county officials last year claimed a broad "criminal conspiracy."
"He's not unlike Thomas in that he's taking one crazy fact and drawing a wild inference from it," Campbell says. "If you send an e-mail to an address and it doesn't come back, would you infer anything from that? To infer from that that I'm doing two jobs and concealing one from the state — that's just crazy."
The endless lawsuits finally caught the attention of Bankruptcy Court Judge Sarah Sharer Curley last year.
In a memorandum decision, Judge Curley noted that Goodman and his wife had failed to make good on various judgments yet just kept suing his opponents.
"The Goodmans have waged a war of attrition to avoid payment on their guarantees," she wrote. "For example, the Goodmans have filed a variety of lawsuits, special actions, motions, and independent actions, which have named their judgment creditors, counsel for those creditors, and even state court judges as defendants.
"Although this argument has been rejected multiple times, by multiple courts, the Goodmans continue to file pleading after pleading, in various courts in which they advance the same arguments."
Curley then took a step that even she acknowledged was "an extreme remedy that should rarely be used." She declared that Goodman had a history of "vexatious and harassing litigation." And she issued an injunction.
Any time Goodman wishes to file a lawsuit that has anything to do with his business debts, he will have to get the court's permission first.
Judge Curley issued her ruling in September.
Four months later, Goodman surfaced in probate court.
Grant Goodman would have never ended up in probate court if not for Laurie Roberts.
Probate court tends to get little publicity, for good reason. Its cases involve family matters: death, mental illness, disability.
And though the cases are extremely important to the families involved, they rarely come with unlimited budgets for litigation. The families who can afford lawyers don't have the kind of insurance coverage that allows business litigation to get so expensive. Many probate clients can't even afford attorneys — they get one appointed by the court. Lawyers who agree to represent the indigent under that system get a flat fee of $1,410 per case for guardian ad litem work and $284 per case to serve as a court-appointed attorney. "If an indigent person needs a trial, they'll get it for $284," says attorney Paul Theut, who's practiced in probate court for two decades.
Because of that, the roughly 50 lawyers who regularly practice in probate — and particularly the 25 or so who agree to accept work from the county — try to be collegial. They pride themselves on working things out without expensive trials or even depositions. They abhor grandstanding.
Then along came Laurie Roberts.
Roberts is a longtime columnist at the Arizona Republic and, thanks to her tenacity, something of an anomaly among the paper's opinion writers. Let the Republic's male columnists write about soft subjects like Joe Arpaio sending them a pizza or whimsically answer their readers' silly questions about life in the desert. Roberts takes on corrupt politicians and drunk drivers. While she can be something of a scold, she's also a real hard news reporter and a dogged one at that.
She gets results. Roberts' jihad against Child Protective Services in 2002 convinced Governor Janet Napolitano that far too many children were being left in unsafe environments — leading to both a massive budget increase for CPS and a massive increase in the number of children placed in foster care. Three years ago, still working the CPS beat, Roberts inspired new legislation that would open up the agency's books in cases where children are killed. She's been named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
Last fall, Roberts turned her attention to probate court — focusing on an elderly woman named Marie Long, who'd been placed under its protection in 2005.
Probate files tell the whole sad story: how Cliff Long died in 2003, leaving his wife with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank and a $480,000 home in Scottsdale, owned free and clear. How Marie had a stroke two years later, so the niece in charge of her estate, Jenny Olen, moved her close to her, in California. How Marie Long's elderly sisters objected.
The court-appointed conservator, Sun Valley Group, had recommended an assisted-living facility for Long. But the sisters would have none of it. They wanted her in her own home. The California-based Olen acquiesced, hiring a company here to provide around-the-clock care.
Naturally, any time you're talking about 24-hour, in-home caregivers, the expenses are immense. So it was with Marie Long: Her caregivers charged $9,000 every month.
It got worse when those caregivers quit in the first year of the arrangement. "Experienced in dealing with problematic families, [the caregivers] could not have anticipated the continuous complaints and objections that were lodged by Long's sisters and other family members," the commissioner on the case, Lindsey Ellis, would later write in an order summarizing the case. "Caregivers were accused of all manner of inappropriate care, including stealing, providing insufficient meals, improper supervision, sleeping, dangerous transportation, being rude, ruining Long's clothes, etc."
With no caregiver to handle Long, the Sun Valley Group hired its own caregivers to do the day-to-day work. Costs rose to $12,000 per month.
Then there was the cost of litigation. Long's elderly sisters didn't think Olen was doing a good job as trustee. One of their daughters was married to a criminal defense attorney, and he tried to intervene on the sisters' behalf in 2005. He subsequently filed a legal challenge to Olen's trusteeship in 2006, and, in 2009, he filed a lawsuit in civil court.
A homemaker for years, Olen was perhaps too naive about the difficulties of managing her aunt's affairs — but she was also worried that Long's sisters were motivated by money. (She noted in court files they'd already helped themselves to $10,000 from Long's home, saying it was a gift.) She fought back.
There were four days of hearings. There were depositions. And there were lawyer fees . . . more and more lawyer fees.
That's the nature of the probate beast, unfortunately. The system has so many checks and balances that when a matter turns adversarial, as many as six different advocates can be required:
• A conservator, to handle the incapacitated person's finances,
• A guardian, to represent her "personhood," which basically means her health and day-to-day life,
• Both the guardian and the conservator need lawyers,
• A guardian ad litem, which is basically a lawyer to represent the incapacitated person's best interests,
• A court-appointed counsel, to advocate for what she thinks her best interests are.
And all six of those people are being paid by the incapacitated person's estate. Hence the premium on working things out: Four lawyers and a conservator and a guardian do not come cheap. Get a bulldog criminal defense attorney charging in and challenging the status quo, and, well, Marie Long was suddenly paying six different people to fight back.
So take $12,000, or even $9,000, every month for three years to let Long live at home. Then add a year in assisted living, because Long eventually moved there when her health and finances continued to deteriorate. Take the cost of moving three times: to California, back to Arizona, and then into assisted living.
Then factor in the bad economy, which caused Long's investments to lose value.
Finally, take the cost of dealing with a family who's grown suspicious on both sides — relationships that turned so toxic that Olen's own mother sent Commissioner Ellis a letter saying she'll feel sorry for her daughter when she "meets her maker."
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to see how the little old lady's estate ran out of money.
Laurie Roberts was outraged.
In a series of columns beginning in October and continuing through recent weeks, Roberts has used the Long case to inveigh against the clubby atmosphere in probate court.
She accused lawyers of enriching themselves — and the commissioners and judges of letting it happen.
"Four years ago, Marie Long was worth more than a million dollars, but that money is gone now, most of it gobbled up by lawyers and a guardian that decided what she needed and then hired itself to provide it," Roberts wrote in a column last December.
In her original column, Roberts acknowledged (briefly) that it was Long's sisters who insisted she return to her Scottsdale home, a situation that accounted for a big chunk of the expenses. But she made no mention of that in later columns, and her outrage only grew.
She also barely mentioned the litigation from Long's sisters, whom Commissioner Ellis blamed for the situation getting so out of control — and expensive.
Instead, Roberts saved her anger for Ellis and the Sun Valley Group, the court-appointed conservator that hired itself as a caregiver.
Roberts' columns moved one outraged reader to take action.
In January, Roberts reported, attorney Grant Goodman had filed suit in federal court on behalf of Long and two other "victims" of probate court.
Roberts never mentioned Goodman's financial history, the State Bar investigation, or the finding that he was a "vexatious litigator" in bankruptcy court.
And though Roberts attended the March 24 hearing, when Potts shared his concern about Goodman's $100,000 fee, she's never reported on that, either.
Roberts did not respond to requests for comment.
Had Goodman just filed a lawsuit on behalf of Marie Long and her sisters, there would have been little outcry. Everyone knew the Long case had been toxic — and pricey. Litigation was practically a given.
But Goodman also filed racketeering suits on behalf of Edward Ravenscroft and an elderly woman named Helga Mallet. Both suits again accused probate lawyers of being part of a conspiracy to defraud their clients.
In her column, Roberts made both cases sound extraordinary. Mallet, she explained, had investments worth more than $1 million when she was declared incapacitated and placed under the protection of probate court. Nine months later, Roberts claimed, Mallet was worth just $1.76 — and had been forced into a mental hospital.
"There has never been a full accounting to the probate court of what happened to Helga Mallet's money," Roberts added ominously.
And then there was Ravenscroft.
Roberts wrote that he ended up in the system after being arrested for drug possession. "When authorities realized he was rich," she wrote, they sent him to probate and declared him incapacitated.
Then, Roberts reported, everybody started cashing in. His guardian ad litem, Paul Theut, made $62,000 in just 31/2 months! Ravenscroft's court-appointed attorney, Larry Scaringelli, made $33,000 in five months! Meanwhile, poor Edward Ravenscroft was forced to sleep a friend's sofa and survive on a weekly allowance of just $300.
But if Roberts had sensationalized a complicated family feud in the Marie Long case, she got the stories of Ravenscroft and Mallet flat wrong.
Mallet had already burned through much of her estate when she ended up in probate court. The elderly Fountain Hills woman spent $1.1 million between March 2007 and February 2008 — including sending $350,000 to a Jamaican e-mail scammer. A local bank branch manager actually contacted the authorities because he was so concerned by her withdrawals.
When the Sun Valley Group was appointed Mallet's conservator in September 2008, it learned most of her assets were tied up in real estate. With the market crashing, it was alarmed to learn she'd taken out loans on some houses she had once owned free and clear, apparently in hopes of generating more money to send to Jamaica. Some properties were now in foreclosure.
The Sun Valley Group began working frantically to sort out Mallet's tangled financial web — and sell her excess land.
In just over a year, it's gotten court approval for the sale of two vacant lots and worked to sell other property for her benefit in three different states. It's been working with the IRS to deal with a $1.7 million tax lien against Mallet.
For more than a year, it worked without collecting any fees, simply because the account has no liquidity. To date, Sun Valley Group has billed Mallet for just $46,361, plus another $20,000 or so in attorney fees.
Yet the company and its attorney are now being sued in federal court as a "syndicate" defrauding Mallet's estate.
And then there's Ravenscroft.
His case had been, to say the least, difficult for his guardians and attorneys. Billing statements from Ravenscroft's guardian ad litem, Theut, show the complicated details: endless collect calls from the jail, endless calls from Ravenscroft's girlfriend, and a client who was too addled to help himself.
Ravenscroft's probate team got him placed at the Meadows, the Wickenburg rehab facility that's famously treated such celebrities as Rush Limbaugh and Kate Moss. But he discharged himself. They got him placed in a second program, but the staff and the other patients were so alarmed by his behavior that they asked him to leave. And so on. Ravenscroft overdosed four times from March to September 2009 — and Theut had to deal with the fallout. (Once, Theut found $16,000 in cashier's checks strewn around Ravenscroft's hotel room after he was rushed to the emergency room.)
But Ravenscroft eventually pulled it together. He got off drugs. He took his medication. He found lodging with a woman he met at church, and his team of attorneys and guardians was working to transition him into a home of his own.
"We talked at length about increasing his degrees of freedom and responsibility, knowing that the treatment team, they had wanted to see how he did with increased degrees of freedom," Dr. Potts explained in a court hearing. "And so we were all expecting that around Christmastime, Edward would be moving into the home."
But Ravenscroft wanted to make some repairs first. His team agreed to hire contractors.
On the very week that construction began, in January, Ravenscroft's guardian, Brian Williamson, got a call from an attorney who said he worked for Grant Goodman.
He wanted to file a lawsuit on Ravenscroft's behalf.
Williamson said he couldn't sign off on a lawsuit without speaking to his attorney, Gary Strickland, who is part of the county's office of legal counsel.
Strickland left a message for Goodman's employee, but he didn't get a call back until it was too late: Goodman had already filed a racketeering lawsuit on Ravenscroft's behalf against Scaringelli, Theut, the Sun Valley Group, and Sun Valley's attorney, Alisa Gray.
Ravenscroft's lawyers had been proud of the work they'd done.
"It was a very, very difficult client and took a tremendous amount of work," says Paul Theut, who's worked as a guardian ad litem for 22 years in counties across the state. "The average case is not like that — if it was like that, we'd never get anything else done. But I thought it was a good result."
"When I first met my client, he was in the Maricopa County Jail," recalls Ravenscroft's court-appointed lawyer, Scaringelli. "He wasn't on his own and he was in serious trouble. From there, we worked to get him back on his feet and to get him living on his own.
"Edward got the treatment he needed and the help that he needed," he continues. "Without probate court, without the intervention of probate court and myself, I think Edward would be dead at this point."
When Goodman filed his lawsuit, Scaringelli resigned immediately, citing the ethical rules that require attorneys to quit if they're being sued by a client.
The commissioner on the case met with the remaining people on Ravenscroft's probate team — Alisa Gray, Williamson, and Strickland — to determine how to proceed. A new lawyer, one chosen at random from the county list, was appointed to Ravenscroft.
At a subsequent hearing on March 24, Goodman would try to make an issue of that emergency meeting. He thundered angrily that they'd had an ex parte hearing. He felt he should have been invited, even though he'd never made an appearance in the probate court case. (That argument, naturally, went nowhere.)
Despite Goodman's blustering on unrelated matters, the March 24 hearing was actually the court's attempt to deal with Goodman — specifically, a subpoena issued by Strickland.
The subject: Goodman's fee agreement.
On behalf of Ravenscroft's guardian, Strickland had telephoned Goodman on March 3. Ravenscroft's court-appointed psychiatrist, Potts, was concerned that Ravenscroft was being victimized by Goodman. Just how much was the attorney making for pushing the racketeering case? Especially since the court was considering whether Ravenscroft was ready for added freedoms, it was important for Potts to know whether he was safeguarding his own interests — or continuing his pattern of giving away money without caution.
So Strickland asked Goodman to turn over his fee agreement.
He got nowhere. In fact, Goodman hung up on him.
So Strickland issued a subpoena, demanding he turn it over. "One cannot discuss with another party who . . . does not present themselves in a typical courteous and gentlemanly fashion," he would later explain in court.
Probate Court Presiding Judge Karen O'Connor issued an order to show cause. In the order, O'Connor made it clear that she would hold Goodman in contempt of court unless he coughed up the fee agreement or gave good reason for not doing so.
In court, Goodman turned red and fumed and demanded to put all sorts of witnesses on the stand for cross-examination. He threatened to file a special action with the court of appeals to block O'Connor. He claimed he'd had a team of six attorneys working over the weekend on the issue — ringing up $35,000 in fees, even though they hadn't been paid a penny.
Ultimately, though, he coughed up the agreement.
It showed that Edward Ravenscroft had promised to pay Goodman $100,000, plus 35 percent of any settlement or jury verdict.
That's much more than the fees charged by the attorneys he was suing. Scaringelli had made just $33,000; Theut made $62,0000.
They'd visited him in jail. Theut had dealt with two of his overdoses and several trips in and out of rehab. And Goodman, who'd charged $100,000 just to file a lawsuit, was suing them? The lawyers were stunned.
Even beyond the fee agreement, Goodman definitely made an impression on those in attendance.
"In my 19 years as an attorney, in my opinion, I have never seen an attorney that disrespectful, and that rude, to a judge," Scaringelli says.
Goodman dropped the Ravenscroft lawsuit one day after the March 24 hearing. He apparently realized, belatedly, that he couldn't sue on behalf of a man deemed "incapacitated" without the permission of his guardian.
Judge O'Connor lifted the guardianship at that very hearing. But, believing that Ravenscroft was still vulnerable financially, she kept the conservatorship in place. He was capable of managing his day-to-day affairs, she concluded, but not capable of safeguarding his finances.
Now that he doesn't have a guardian, Goodman argues that Edward Ravenscroft has the right to sue anyone he wants to, so long as he has a lawyer willing to take the case.
Naturally, Goodman is willing. He tells New Times he plans to refile this week.
And he's not backing down. If anything, he's revving up.
Goodman explains cheerfully that, thanks to attorney Gary Strickland's attempts to get his fee agreement, he now plans to add Strickland to the lawsuit. And Brian Williamson, Ravenscroft's former guardian. And psychiatrist Jack Potts. And Judge O'Connor.
To that end, Goodman also voluntarily dismissed both the Mallet lawsuit and the one on behalf of Marie Long last week. He says he plans to refile all three suits in state court.
He'll add judges, and commissioners, to all three. He promises lengthy complaints with a litany of state constitutional issues. He sounds almost giddy as he ticks them off.
The only thing that seems to upset Goodman are questions about the size of his fees — and why he thinks he should be paid more money than the so-called "syndicate" ever got.
"It's almost an insult to compare what I do to what these hacks do," Goodman says, and his voice rises. "There's no advocacy, no litigation, no trials. The hearings are minimal. Everything is rubber-stamped! My complaints take longer to draft than the entire time frame they've spent on this case!"
But Goodman concedes that he's gotten Ravenscroft to sign a new fee agreement. He's now going to do the case entirely on contingency: Other than court costs, he'll only get paid if he's successful.
He boasts that he is attracting some big cases these days. But his racketeering suits? They're a lark. "This is what I do for fun," he says.
All that "fun," though, could have serious repercussions.
Lawyers who practice in probate admit that they're worried. They fear the bad publicity and racketeering accusations are turning the court's collegial atmosphere toxic.
Attorney Strickland, who represents the Office of the Public Fiduciary, says he appreciates Goodman's crusade — in theory.
"For those who are in responsible positions, it's appropriate to maintain a vigilant eye, to make sure the fiduciary community adheres to the highest standards," he says.
But the way Goodman is accusing everyone of being part of a criminal conspiracy? "These broad-stroke accusations can only poison the water," he says. "It's a shame. You have vulnerable people here, people with physical incapacities or the elderly. It's a little bit different area. And it has to be approached a little bit differently."
They fear, too, that Goodman's crusade will waste a ton of money as lawyers try to defend themselves against his accusations. And though it's hard to feel sorry for lawyers, the taxpayers are surely going to end up on the hook, too. Anytime a judge gets sued, the Arizona attorney general defends them. If Strickland and Williamson and the Office of the Public Fiduciary get sued, Maricopa County foots the bill.
And if Goodman's history is any indication, he's not going to stop with these racketeering lawsuits.
He seems genuinely convinced that he's tapped a real need. He's fighting for a righteous cause, and no matter how pointed the questions at his 90-minute interview with New Times, he can't seem to fathom that this story will be anything other than positive. How could it? He's the good guy.
Business is booming, he says. Goodman claims he's recently added a number of attorneys, and he's taking applications online for a host of new positions: office administrator, in-house forensic accountant, paralegal, associate attorney, even another senior attorney.
"Feel free to submit a résumé for any position," his Web site says. "We are currently experiencing substantial growth."
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