Judge Rejects Pact, Criticizes Lawyers
The following article appeared in the April 23, 1997 edition The Legal Intelligencer Suburban.
Bar President Appointed Guardian in du Pont Case
By Traci L. Hughes
Special to The Legal
In addition to his law practice and duties as president of the Delaware County Bar Association, Media attorney Leonard A. Sloane was handed another responsibility last week—guardian ad litem for convicted murderer John du Pont.
The new assignment came during a 45-minute hearing Friday in which President Judge A. Leo Sereni ordered an independent evaluation of John du Pont and rejected a proposed agreement signed by du Pont for his sister Jean D. Shehan to be among the trustees of the multi-millionaire’s estate.
In the proceeding in Orphans’ Court, Sereni blistered du Pont’s family members and “professional entourage,” suggesting that delays in having du Pont involuntarily committed was a case of not wanting to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
In addition to naming Sloane temporary guardian ad litem, Sereni appointed an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Toborowski, to interview du Pont outside the presence of lawyers from both sides. The judge scheduled the interview for after du Pont’s sentencing in the January 1996 shooting of Olympic wrestler David Schultz at du Pont’s Newtown Square estate.
Sloane, of Caine, DiPasqua, Sloane & Raffaele, said he was made aware of Sereni’s ruling just minutes after the conclusion of the hearing. He said he will consult with Dr. Toborowski before making any determinations about his questioning of du Pont.
“I will have to determine what it is that is within the scope of my responsibility after talking with Dr. Toborowski,” said Sloane.
The 58-year-old du Pont is being held at Norristown State Hospital. A jury found him guilty of third-degree murder but mentally ill in February. Sentencing had been scheduled for yesterday, but was expected to be continued.
Sereni said he based his ruling on several inconsistencies demonstrated by counsel for both du Pont and the petitioners seeking guardianship of the multi-millionaire’s estate. Noting the petitioners’ March 20 memorandum, Sereni said “increasingly it appears that John’s attorneys have taken complete control of his legal and personal affairs”.
Sereni added that du Pont is on record urging the court “not to be deceived by his family’s self-serving motivations”.
“History has taught us in the most sad fashion that designing members could include family members, friends and counsel,” said Sereni. “The agreement between the parties has caused the court grave concern. The totality of the circumstances caused the court to have questions that must, and shall, be answered”.
Du Pont signed an amended irrevocable trust agreement April 9 that would transfer his estate to Shehan, and a long time friend of du Pont’s, William Terrence McDonnell. Power of attorney was also signed over to The Bryn Mawr Trust to “make all financial and personal decisions on Mr. du Pont’s behalf and his best interests”.
Du Pont signed the agreement and issued a statement saying, “I am amending my trust and creating the powers of attorney because I recognize that I need to protect myself and others and because I recognize that I need assistance in the management of my affairs.”
Sereni made it forcefully clear, over the objections of Mark A. Klugheit, lead attorney for du Pont, and Margaret E.W. Sager, attorney for the petitioners, that the court’s ruling was non-negotiable.
“This court shall not be used as a rubber stamp in order to accommodate anyone who may have an agenda other than to protect Mr. du Pont’s interests,” said Sereni. “The more I hear your objections, the more I am convinced this is necessary. This is not a guardian ad litem to create a cause of action; this is a guardian ad litem to protect the client.”
Sereni amended his ruling to allow Klugheit, of Dechert Price & Rhoads, and Sager, of Heckscher, Teillon, Terrill & Sager, to be present in an adjacent room to observe the psychiatric exam.
“The court does not intend to impugn the integrity of counsel,” said Sereni. “The court does intend to determine whether Mr. du Pont has been properly advised and fully advised regarding the intricacies of an irrevocable trust.”
In an interview after the hearing, Klugheit and L. Pierre Teillon Jr., who also represents the petitioners, said they have no qualms with the court demanding an independent evaluation. Both said they are certain that Toborowski will reach the same conclusion as psychiatrists hired by both sides to evaluate du Pont.
Sereni also accused attorneys and family members of being remiss for not bringing du Pont’s mental state to the attention of the court sooner than January 1996.
“Intents by counsel representing du Pont all these years with respect to taking aggressive versus feeble action to have Mr. du Pont involuntarily committed has resulted in two children without a father and a widow without a husband.”
Klugheit strongly opposed Sereni ‘s implications that his representation was less than diligent.
“With all due respect, there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that I am not acting in Mr. du Pont’s best interest. He has chosen me to represent him for better or for worse. Klugheit added, without mentioning names, that “I know for a fact that there were very significant efforts made by one person to have Mr. du Pont’s actions examined well before January of 1996.”