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Even Westbrook, Conn., attorney James A. McGee’s own lawyer admits his client was wrong to charge a mentally handicapped man and his elderly mother $87.50 an hour to personally clean their house and drive them to medical appointments. But, in a Sept. 20 interview, William F. Gallagher lambasted a scorching decision issued by Clinton, Conn., Judge of Probate Raymond Rigat accusing McGee of bilking the mother and son of tens of thousands of dollars. In May, the judge ordered McGee to return the $73,000 he charged Albert and Veronica Planeta as their attorney, as well as reimburse the two Clinton residents for an additional $38,000 of their money, which Rigat found was unaccounted for. The stinging rebuke described McGee’s actions as “looting” and “nothing short of despicable.” In his Sept. 14 appeal, filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, McGee claimed Rigat’s conclusion is based on the judge’s “unreasonable, unwarranted and illogical inferences” from the evidence presented to the probate court. Rigat’s “highly improper assessment” of McGee’s motives also suggests that the judge has a “personal animus” toward him, McGee alleged. “I’ve never seen a more vicious memorandum of decision,” maintained Gallagher, of Gallagher & Calistro in New Haven, Conn. Rigat declined comment, as did Arthur Schubert of Burnham & Schubert in Clinton, who is representing the 68-year-old Albert Planeta in the matter. Gallagher said his client is far from the “predator” described in Rigat’s decision, “who systematically bilked two elderly people who were in poor health and without family or friends … to protect their interests from his unscrupulous designs.” “These people were desperate to stay in their house,” according to Gallagher. McGee, his attorney added, “thought he was doing the right thing” by keeping them from being institutionalized by attending to their personal and medical needs. “He did things that perhaps shouldn’t have been done,” Gallagher said, referring to the excessive fees McGee charged for non-legal tasks. Gallagher, however, insisted that McGee, a former probate court judge in neighboring Westbrook, believed that hiring a service to clean the Planetas’ home and to take them to doctor’s appointments on nearly a daily basis would have been “more expensive in the long run.” Gallagher said he would have had no quarrel with Rigat had he merely ordered McGee’s fees to be reduced. He also claimed that Rigat wrongly denied his client an opportunity to call witnesses who couldn’t attend the Saturday, May 13 probate court hearing on the matter. The witnesses, Gallagher maintained, would have testified that the Planetas retained control over their bank accounts and didn’t need to be placed in a convalescent or an assisted-living facility. Furthermore, Gallagher contended that the probate court did “its arithmetic wrong” in determining that the Planetas’ unaccounted funds amounted to $38,000. In his ruling, Rigat, citing the untidiness of the Planetas’ home, further denigrated McGee for knowingly allowing the mother and son to remain in unhealthy conditions “in order to continue to milk their limited financial resources.” Gallagher, however, said that the home only fell into disarray after McGee was advised by the probate court to discontinue his services to the Planetas.

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