A lawyer accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a retired Brooklyn judge whose estate she was overseeing as a guardian has been suspended from practice because her alleged misconduct "immediately threatens the public interest."
Emani P. Taylor has been the subject of disciplinary proceeding over her alleged withdrawal without authorization of $327,100 from accounts of John L. Phillips, a onetime Civil Court judge who was ruled mentally incompetent in 2002. Taylor, who served as Phillips' guardian from 2003 to 2006, has acknowledged withdrawing some money but claims she did so properly to pay both herself and others for services rendered.
In a decision last week suspending Taylor pending the outcome of her disciplinary proceeding, the Appellate Division, 1st Department, said the lawyer's explanation for the withdrawals "strains credibility."
"At a minimum, [Taylor] withdrew funds from the guardianship account as legal fees without court permission, at worst, she intentionally converted guardianship funds," a unanimous panel of Justices Richard T. Andrias, Eugene Nardelli, Luis A. Gonzalez, John W. Sweeny and Bernard J. Malone said in Matter of Emani P. Taylor, M-5482.
The court also said Taylor had not cooperated with the disciplinary investigation and that her lack of cooperation could "only be interpreted as a deliberate and willful attempt to impede the [Departmental Disciplinary] Committee's investigation.
Citing Taylor's lack of cooperation, the court said it would accept as uncontested an accounting prepared by a court-appointed examiner of the period during which Taylor acted as Phillips' guardian. According to this accounting, Taylor wrote $200,000 in checks to herself from guardianship accounts for supposed retainers and legal fees. Another $69,000 was paid to herself or to "cash" for supposed expenses, and another $57,000 was withdrawn in cash.
In an affidavit submitted in response to the committee's suspension motion, Taylor claimed her authority for the withdrawals came from an order by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Michael Pesce concerning the sale of a property owned by Phillips. But the court noted that the order cited by Taylor only specifically addressed renovation work and fees for health care professionals, not legal fees.
"While [Taylor] was entitled to be compensated for the work she performed for three years, self-help to guardianship funds is not the way to proceed," the court said.
The court also said it was "very disturbing" that Taylor had applied to the court for $853,100 in legal fees relating to her guardianship but did not disclose that she had already withdrawn from the guardianship account more than $327,000 for her own use.
The propriety of Taylor's withdrawals is also at issue in a civil case before Pesce. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office had also investigated Taylor but determined no crime had taken place, although it said that there might have been violations of disciplinary rules.
Taylor appeared pro se, and Andral N. Britton appeared for the disciplinary committee.
Earlier in December, Acting Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Ambrosio ordered the sale of the Black Lady Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which is owned by Phillips. The theater has been appraised at $1.5 million and is being sold to satisfy $2 million in tax liens and other judgments, according to Phillips' court-appointed guardian, James H. Cahill Jr. of Cahill & Cahill.
Cahill also said at the time that Taylor is scheduled to appear at a Feb. 5 hearing, where more than $500,000 will be sought.