You Can't Take It With You

By dying rich, Dora Pomeranc ensured that Dade's probate court would continue to be a very lively place

The subpoena landed on the judge's desk with an offensive slap and was quickly whisked away to the office of the county attorney, where it became the object of some consternation. As long as anyone in the office could remember, no lawyer had ever had the temerity to attempt to subpoena the judge who was presiding over his case.

At the county attorney's office, the action was regarded as an embarrassing affront, a breach of courthouse etiquette. Besides that, it was deemed to be ridiculous, legally speaking. An attorney simply cannot subpoena his own judge for questioning. And so the county expeditiously filed a motion to quash.

The substance of attorney Irving Yedwab's concern: that veteran probate court Judge Robert H. Newman might have an improper relationship with Yedwab's opponents in a guardianship/estate proceeding.

Twice already the attorney had attempted to interest the local custodians of courthouse ethics in his case, and he was becoming convinced that the forces of justice were being unfairly deployed against him. Yedwab had tried filing a complaint with the Florida Bar, but the Bar had declined to investigate. He had asked Judge Newman to voluntarily recuse himself. The judge had refused. Yedwab then appealed Newman's decision to the Third District Court of Appeal, but the appellate court sided with Newman.

The subpoena, which would have had Judge Newman submit to a sworn deposition this past December, was a legally dubious act of desperation. But Yedwab reasoned that he needed rock-solid proof of Newman's alleged bias, and he intended to get it by questioning the 68-year-old jurist about the nature of his relationship with attorney Martin Levinson, age 61, and his wife Shirley, also 61, as well as with Dade County probate maven and former Florida Bar president Sam Smith, who was representing the couple. Yedwab's clients, two of Shirley Levinson's sisters, were accusing Shirley and Martin Levinson of conspiring to deprive them of their share of a deceased aunt's estate.

Not that a subpoena and deposition were really necessary. It's common knowledge around the Dade County Courthouse that Smith and Newman are good friends. They both sit on the board of directors for Jewish Family Services. They occasionally dine together. "I was at a wedding that [Newman] was at two weeks ago," Smith says candidly. "In fact, we sat at the same table." The two men have been pals for years, he notes. "I think it's terrible to say to somebody, 'Become a judge and none of your friends who are lawyers will ever speak to you again.'"

As for Martin Levinson, the South Dade attorney also attends some of the same professional and social functions as the judge. Now and then his wife Shirley bumps into Newman's wife Gail on the tennis courts. For a few years the Levinsons and Newmans attended the same synagogue, Temple Beth Am in Kendall, where Newman had once been president of the congregation.

In the intimate world of Dade probate court, these types of friendships are commonplace, according to long-time practitioners. They are certainly not regarded as conflicts of interest, and for Yedwab to suggest as much was not only considered gauche, it was downright insulting.

"Newman knows everyone," says Ed Golden, chairman of the probate and guardianship committee of the Dade County Bar Association. "Usually he'll announce early on [in a proceeding]: 'I married this couple, or I was at their son's bar mitzvah.'"

Probate lawyers rarely have a problem with the judge's disclosure, Golden continues: "Newman is very fair. I know a lot of people he's very close to whom he rules against on a regular basis. It's very difficult to be in a situation -- if you're active in your practice and you're active in the bar association -- in which you don't run into judges in social situations."

The social whirl of Dade County lawyers and judges, however, does not include all professionals, among them Irving Yedwab, a sole practitioner with a storefront office in the unglamorous burg of Surfside. In the warm, soupy waters of South Florida's legal aquarium, Yedwab is a bottom feeder. For more than 36 years he has earned his living by carrying out humdrum legal chores: filing tax documents, setting up trusts, composing wills. High-profile cases have not come his way, nor have opportunities to hobnob.

When Judge Newman first announced that he was acquainted with Martin and Shirley Levinson in an off-the-cuff comment during a hearing in late 1994, Yedwab didn't object, much less ask the judge to recuse himself. Most probate practitioners consider Newman to be among the most impartial and competent jurists on the bench. A judge since 1978, he consistently earns high ratings in the annual poll sponsored by the Dade County Bar Association (38.5 percent of the lawyers surveyed rated him as exceptionally qualified in 1994, the most recent poll of the circuit court, and 53.8 percent described him as qualified, the next highest rating). Thus, Yedwab reasoned, even taking into consideration Newman's link to the Levinsons, his clients might fare worse before another judge.

It wasn't until Yedwab began to review the accounts submitted by Shirley Levinson, who had been appointed guardian in the case in question, that he became uneasy. In court documents submitted by Yedwab, the lawyer claims that the financial records showed clear evidence of "obviously improper, illegal, unprofessional, and criminal acts of the guardian." What's more, as Shirley Levinson's attorney for the guardianship, her husband Martin was also implicated. Initially at least, Judge Newman's response to Yedwab's complaints and allegations -- proffered in vehement courtroom declarations and overwrought petitions -- did not satisfy the attorney, who became increasingly skeptical of the judge's impartiality.

In its broad outlines, the battle over Dora Pomeranc's guardianship and estate is similar to other family struggles over inheritances. It involves lacerating accusations about who loved whom best, the sudden appearance of a new and suspect will, and charges that a guardian improperly appropriated money.

As part of its mandate, the probate court investigates such charges. This is done through hearings and trials, which are conducted by the probate judge. The judge may also see fit to appoint an independent monitor to review the files, or a curator to take control of the assets of an estate. According to experienced probate lawyers, if the evidence supports the allegations, the court can take action against offenders, usually by requiring them to reimburse the estate for any assets that have been misused.

The court itself, and the professionals who work there, are governed by federal and state law, the Florida probate code, Florida guardianship law, the rules of professional conduct, and the code of judicial conduct A strictures designed to counterbalance common human frailties: tendencies toward favoritism, prejudice, and greed. The rules are enforced in a variety of ways. A judge's decision, made at any point in a proceeding, can be appealed to a higher court; and the Florida Bar and the Judicial Qualifications Commission can discipline errant lawyers and judges.

But critics of the court argue that the potential for abuse persists, especially in probate, where a few dozen attorneys specializing in estate and guardianship law try their cases in front of four white male judges, one of whom (Newman) has been there for six years, another for ten. The brotherhood, inevitably, begets charges of conflicts of interest. And it's not just a question of friendship impinging on the impartiality of the bench. Probate judges have the power to dispense not only justice, but lucrative employment opportunities, as well: Curatorships or monitor posts can generate up to $100,000 in fees. When these positions are awarded to friends of the judge, the odor of impropriety is unavoidable, and it attaches itself even to the most venerable of jurists.

In 1992, in the wake of the Court Broom corruption scandal, the Dade County Bar Association asked respected lawyer Richard Milstein to look into the system by which attorneys were appointed to probate cases. Although such appointments are often specified in the deceased's will, in many cases a probate judge had discretion to appoint whomever he saw fit. Milstein today says frankly: "Would certain judges favor certain people? Yes. Did it appear improper? Absolutely yes."

In an effort to clean up the process, Milstein and some other attorneys helped the court institute the "probate wheel," a system by which judges are required to make blind appointments. Any local lawyer who is interested in obtaining an appointment in probate and is familiar with the Florida probate codes can sign up at the clerk's office. Judges are allowed to bypass the wheel, though, if they feel a case requires a special skill, such as bilingual abilities, medical knowledge, or complicated asset management.

Milstein also tried to institute a tracking system by which the court would keep a record of who got which appointments, and whether the appointments were pro bono or paid positions. (As much as 70 percent of the appointments made by the wheel system are pro bono.) "We were told that it would be an administrative nightmare," Milstein recalls.

The wheel system that was implemented in 1992 does not encourage scrutiny of "off the wheel" appointments. Indeed there is no systematic way to verify how many high-fee positions are awarded to judges' friends under the justification that they possess special expertise, or even how many times a specific lawyer is appointed off the wheel by a particular judge. "There are some people who are being appointed off the wheel more often than others," Milstein says, adding that both the judge and the lawyer can be at fault. "The system is not perfect," he admits. "We are aware of it. Maybe the wheel needs a bit more inflating."

Irving Yedwab began working on the Dora Pomeranc case in the summer of 1994, not long after Dora had died. One of Shirley Levinson's sisters asked him to examine the expenses Levinson had incurred during her two and a half years of caring for their elderly Aunt Dora. A childless widow with a sizable nest egg, Dora had been diagnosed with senile dementia and judged by the court to be unable to care for herself.

In this way, from September 5, 1991, Dora and her $750,000 estate became a ward of the court. The 86-year-old woman obviously needed a guardian, someone appointed by the court to handle an incapacitated person's financial and personal affairs until his or her inevitable death. And there is nothing unusual about such a situation; in 1995 alone, 1344 similar guardianship cases were filed in Dade County. Dora's case, however, immediately took some intriguing turns.

Practically from the guardianship's inception, Dora's fate was affected by the old-boy network at the courthouse. Pending the court's approval of a petition filed by Shirley Levinson, in which she asked to be named her aunt's official caretaker, Newman appointed Miami Beach attorney Stanley Pred to act as emergency guardian. At the time, of course, the probate wheel did not exist, so Pred's appointment came at Newman's discretion. A former law partner of Newman before the judge was appointed to the bench, Pred received $5000 for paying Dora's outstanding bills and reviewing her assets. He also arranged for her to move into the Palace at Kendall, an adult congregate living facility -- a type of nursing home that fosters independent living.

In October 1991, Pred was replaced by Shirley Levinson, one of five nieces A all sisters -- who were Dora's closest relatives. Of the nieces, Levinson was the only one with a permanent residence in Florida. At the outset, all her sisters but one endorsed her appointment as guardian, and soon she submitted an estimated monthly budget to the court. Although the living facility only cost $2400 per month, which included meals and housekeeping expenses, Levinson requested -- and the court approved -- a monthly budget of $7182. Less than six months later, Judge Newman agreed to boost the amount to $7647 per month. The sum, which included an allowance of $1000 for clothing and $1000 for entertainment, stunned Yedwab when he saw it listed in the court papers.

"You have a lady in her late eighties who's suffering senile dementia, who's living in [an adult congregate facility] A you can't spend $12,000 a year for clothing," Yedwab says indignantly. "People have clothing from their healthy years, and they take this clothing to the [facility]. Sometimes you have to buy a housecoat, you have to buy a pair of shoes, what have you. But in my many, many years of practice, I've never seen a guardianship where the expenses for clothing, toiletries, and beauty parlor ever came to more than $400 to $500 a year."

Moreover, close examination of the guardianship financial records revealed that during the first fourteen months of the guardianship, Levinson spent substantially more than she had originally estimated -- close to $8800 per month. Total guardianship expenses for those initial fourteen months came to nearly $123,000, according to an amended annual accounting submitted by Levinson. (The amended accounting was prompted by Yedwab's protests about omissions in the original.) That amount equaled about sixteen percent of the entire estate. After 34 months of guardianship, Dora died on June 22, 1994. The value of her estate had decreased by some $250,000.

Yedwab points out that Levinson was able to exceed the court-approved budget because she neglected to report an additional $1300 in monthly Social Security benefits that flowed into the guardianship's expense account. In fact, not until March 1994 were these Social Security funds reflected in Levinson's financial statements.

Detailed among the expenses in those first fourteen months were several gifts, including $1000 commemorating the birth of Levinson's grandchild and $1000 to Levinson herself, in the form of a check made out to All Flooring Brokers. (Yedwab says that expense was described in the original accountings as upkeep for Dora's condominium. After he questioned why the Levinsons were renovating a condominium that had been sold several months earlier, the accounts were amended to reflect that the check was actually a gift to Shirley Levinson for floor work in her own home.)

Although Levinson made sure her aunt remembered other relatives (records show that Dora gave $100 on the birth of a grandchild of Levinson's sister Evelyn), she arranged for Dora to be most generous with her guardian's family. In 1993 Aunt Dora gave Shirley's daughter $2000 for the birth of a child. The arrival of two more babies in Shirley Levinson's family prompted additional $1000 gifts to the proud parents. Judge Newman's order appointing Levinson as guardian, however, explicitly forbids her making gifts of Dora's property without court approval. (Neither Shirley Levinson nor her husband Martin would comment for this article. In court papers, the Levinsons have argued that all guardianship expenses were necessary in order to support Dora in the style she was accustomed to throughout her life.)

"Shirley made certain gifts and donations that she believed were consistent with what Dora would have done had she [been competent]," asserts attorney Sam Smith, who was hired by the Levinsons to oppose Yedwab. "If Judge Newman hears [at an upcoming hearing] about the gifts she made, and he believes that those are inappropriate, then they'll be put back [into the estate]." Regarding the unreported Social Security payments, Smith claims that all the money was spent on Dora's care, and points out that it was eventually reported in Levinson's amended annual accountings, submitted March 31, 1995.

"Shirley took care of her aunt for all these years," Smith continues. "She tried to give her the best of care, and now upon her death, two nieces are unhappy. They're saying, 'Why did you spend so much money on this poor old lady? Why didn't you save some for us?'"

Levinson's efforts on behalf of her aunt can hardly be characterized as selfless, however. Court papers show she kept a careful tally of every minute she dedicated to her aunt, billing the guardianship at the rate of $75 per hour (the customary rate for many Dade County guardians) for services such as phone calls, reading and sorting papers, attending birthday parties, participating in shopping excursions to Bloomingdale's, and accompanying Dora to doctors' appointments. From October 15, 1991, to November 26, 1991, Levinson calculated, she spent 74.5 hours with her aunt, and she submitted a bill for $5587. (Judge Newman, who did not respond to a request for an interview with New Times, eventually approved about half that amount.)

Levinson justified her bill with a detailed description of her daily activities. For example, on October 20, she logged 2.5 hours. "Dora is having difficulty integrating and adapting at the Palace," she wrote. "However, the staff is very patient. It has been suggested that she get a companion to help her. I spent time calling people and agencies to get her a companion." And on October 21, Levinson recorded that she and Dora spent 6.5 hours visiting the Jewish Community Center. Afterward they "went shopping because [Dora] likes that best of all. Had some yogurt, then back to the Palace."

As the months passed, Levinson's visits diminished in frequency, but she continued to request that the guardianship reimburse her for social outings and for her presence during nursing-home activities.

Martin Levinson also claims to have logged extensive hours taking care of Aunt Dora's legal affairs on behalf of his wife during the early days of the guardianship. Judge Newman granted him $9300 for work done in September and October 1991, the same period during which Stanley Pred A not Shirley Levinson -- was acting as guardian.

The two sisters of Shirley Levinson being represented by Yedwab have challenged the Levinsons' actions. They stress that the issue is not money, but principle. "My life won't change even if I get an inheritance," says Rose Hodges, a teacher who lives in Brooklyn and is five years older than Shirley. "But it irks me that people can go through life taking and taking and taking."

Dora and her husband Jacob Pomeranc originally specified that their estate should be divided equally among their five nieces (one of whom has since died). But a new will was drawn up by Martin Levinson only three months before Jacob passed away from lung cancer and six months before Dora was placed into a guardianship. The new document cut out Rose Hodges entirely and left Annette Birne (Shirley Levinson's youngest sister) with only ten percent. Shirley Levinson and two other sisters (one of whom was the deceased) were each left 30 percent. (Yedwab's legal challenge to the new will is pending before Judge Newman.)

Rose Hodges blames Shirley and Martin Levinson for influencing their aunt and uncle's change of heart. "Dora was mentally incompetent, and I don't believe Jacob even read the [new] will," Hodges asserts. "He was a sick old man in his late eighties, and I guess he told [the Levinsons] what he wanted and he trusted them." Court papers filed on Hodges's behalf allege that the Levinsons used "overpersuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances" in persuading the Pomerancs to revise their will. Hodges is certain that Dora and Jacob would not have intentionally disinherited her. "I'm sure my Aunt Dora loved me," she says. (Shirley Levinson has stated in court documents that her sister Rose was disinherited because Dora and Jacob were upset that she was contemplating a conversion to Catholicism.)

The five sisters grew up in the Bronx and Brooklyn, daughters of Jewish immigrants. Their father, Dora's brother, left his home in Warsaw, Poland, when he was a teenager, after the end of World War I. At about the same time, Dora and her husband Jacob fled to France, and later to Argentina and eventually to Cuba. The rest of Dora's family remained in Poland and perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Now 67 years old, Rose recalls visiting her aunt and uncle at their home in Havana near the Hotel Nacional. By day Dora managed a bed and breakfast while Jacob worked as a jewelry dealer and money lender. By night they frequented the Cuban casinos.

After Fidel Castro took power, Dora and Jacob moved to Miami. They saw their nieces every few months, traveling to Long Island to visit Marion Mishelow, their favorite of the five girls. (Evelyn, the oldest, also lived on Long Island.) Together with Martin Levinson, who had advised Jacob on legal affairs, Marion Mishelow was appointed the personal representative of the couple's estate. Her death in 1993 left Martin the sole representative of the couple's revised will.

Although the Levinsons lived closest to Dora and Jacob for most of their life in Florida, Shirley Levinson rarely saw her aunt except for Jewish holidays and occasional day trips to Bahamian casinos. "I wasn't involved in their life," she acknowledged in a sworn deposition. "I had my own friends. I didn't . . . socialize with them. When they wanted to go to Freeport, we went."

Levinson's emotional distance from her aunt has stoked Rose Hodges and Annette Birne's suspicion about their sister's enthusiastic embrace of Dora's financial affairs. In court documents, the sisters identify a series of transactions made by the Levinsons that they allege constitute evidence the couple was trying to "embezzle" money from their aunt's estate. Among them:

A $60,200 trust opened by Jacob Pomeranc, naming Martin Levinson as beneficiary, in March 1991, two months before the new wills were signed and about six months before Jacob died. (Although Levinson subsequently inherited the money, he has insisted in a deposition that the trust was not a gift but merely a "testamentary transfer" of funds.

A $30,000 withdrawal made by Shirley Levinson from the guardianship expense account in June 1993, which was then deposited into an account in Shirley's name, over which Martin had power of attorney. (The money was redeposited in the guardianship account in January 1995 after Yedwab began challenging the accounts.)

Several small refund checks (including a $1500 room refund from the Palace after Dora died and a $2000 life-insurance refund) that were not deposited in the guardianship account until the spring of 1995, more than seven months after they had originally been issued and cashed.

A $5000 advance payment to Martin Levinson from the guardianship account made June 21, 1994, the day before Dora died. Sam Smith, the Levinsons' attorney, describes the payment as a "retainer" for legal work that Martin Levinson might have had to bill to the estate following Dora's death. In response to Yedwab's protests, the amount was redeposited in the guardianship account on February 16, 1995.

"Eventually they put the money back," Yedwab concedes. "But they only put it back when they knew they had been discovered. I don't think that returning the money after you've been caught stealing or embezzling constitutes innocence."

Of all the strange events that transpired during Dora's guardianship, most distressing to Yedwab's clients has been the mysterious devaluation of their aunt's jewelry during the three years it was stored in a safe deposit box under Shirley Levinson's control. Dora loved to wear her jewelry, niece Annette Birne recalls, and there was never any question that it was authentic. In fact, Dora and Jacob claimed that the collection, which included diamond rings, diamond earrings, a diamond bracelet, and a diamond necklace, among other assorted pieces, was worth approximately $250,000.

A few days before the guardianship was established, a distant family relative persuaded Dora to give her all the jewelry. Dora later complained to the Levinsons that her jewelry had been stolen. The North Miami Beach Police Department was contacted and the jewelry was eventually recovered and put back in a safe deposit box at the Commercial Bank of Florida. But it was never inventoried or appraised.

For the next three years, in documents they submitted to the court, the Levinsons estimated the jewelry's value at $100,000. But in early 1995, at Yedwab's request, the jewelry was finally appraised. It turned out to be worth a disappointing $10,700.

Yedwab immediately became suspicious. He obtained photos of the jewelry taken by the North Miami Beach police in 1991, and, with court approval, visited the safe deposit box with Art Samuels, an experienced gemologist and former commander in the U.S. Navy. Samuels compared the contents of the box to the photos.

"They looked something like the pieces, but they were clearly not the same pieces that were in the photos," Samuels recalls. In particular, several pieces of gaudy costume jewelry stood out. Moreover, instead of diamonds, many of the pieces were inlaid with cheap, new cubic zirconias, contrasting with expensive, well-worn, platinum settings. "Zirconias are softer than diamonds and they show signs of wear very quickly," the gemologist adds. "They may not have been brand-new, but they certainly had not been worn outside of the box."

Last month Samuels, Yedwab, and the Levinsons returned to the safe deposit box to take pictures of the jewelry. According to Samuels, who brought his notes from the previous visit, the contents of the box had changed once again. Pieces of the inexpensive costume jewelry had disappeared and had been replaced by diamond earrings, a diamond pendant, two gold bracelets, and a diamond ring A pieces similar to those that had appeared in the police photographs.

Yedwab says he is sure the Levinsons switched the jewelry after they realized he had unearthed the original police photos. "These greedy people took out the real stuff and put in costume junk, and they thought they would never get caught," he fumes. In support of his allegations, which were made at a hearing before Judge Newman, Yedwab notes that records kept by the bank show that the Levinsons opened the safe deposit box several times during the guardianship, including on March 22, 1995, a few weeks after Yedwab and Samuels made their first inspection.

Smith, the Levinsons' attorney, shrugs off Yedwab's charges. "Nothing in this case surprises me any more," he says. "The thing about this jewelry is that people bandy around the value of the jewelry. Dora said she had $200,000 worth of jewelry, but nobody had it appraised." He also points out that even if some of the gems had been switched, the swap could have happened when the jewelry was in the possession of Dora's relative during the alleged theft in September 1991.

Even before Yedwab began to amass evidence that Dora's jewelry may have been tampered with, he asked Judge Newman to appoint a curator, an outsider who would take control of Dora's estate. In the ten-page pleading dated February 22, 1995, Yedwab documented the numerous transactions made by the Levinsons that he alleges are prohibited by Florida guardianship laws, including the gifts to Levinson's family members, the $30,000 withdrawal, the unreported Social Security payments, and the unreported refund checks. "The guardian and her attorney/husband must be held accountable for what they have done," he concluded dramatically.

At the same time he was asking Newman to appoint a curator, Yedwab was also demanding that the judge hold a hearing on the irregularities he had uncovered in Levinson's accountings. Although Florida law specifies that an objection to a report filed in a guardianship case should be heard by a judge within 30 days, Newman decided to give the Levinsons extra time to file amended financial documents, in effect giving them a chance to rectify any inconsistencies.

It was at this point, Yedwab recalls, that he became haunted by the comment Newman had made at a hearing the previous year -- that he was acquainted with the Levinsons. At a March 1995, hearing he demanded that Newman recuse himself and have another judge take the case. Newman asked Yedwab to submit a written request.

"When this matter appeared to only be a will contest, [the judge's relationship with the Levinsons] was acceptable," Yedwab wrote in a court pleading dated March 22. "However, as discovery into the guardianship accountings proceeded, overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing by the guardian and her husband/attorney emerged, making it mandatory that the judge who hears this matter, both as a trier of facts and of law, must be totally unburdened with any history of prior acquaintance with any of the parties. How could anyone impose the proper sanctions, penalties, costs, etc. upon an old friend or acquaintance?"

Newman denied the written request. Yedwab appealed the judge's denial to the Third District Court of Appeal, and submitted an emotional brief that speculated about Newman's ties with Sam Smith and the Levinsons but failed to detail any concrete relationship. The three-judge panel responded with a terse, one-sentence ruling upholding Newman's position.

The Florida Bar was equally dismissive. On March 13 of last year Yedwab filed a complaint against Martin Levinson, based on the alleged misdeeds he had attempted to document in court. As is the Bar's practice, Levinson was sent a copy of the complaint and asked to respond to the allegations. In his subsequent letter to the Bar, Levinson described the complaint "as a transparent attempt to invalidate the will of Dora Pomeranc. . . . Each and every allegation is presently in litigation and should be resolved at a trial," he wrote.

A week later the Bar notified Yedwab that it would not investigate his complaint because it concerned matters under civil litigation. "We can't usurp the power of the civil courts," explains Arlene Sankel, assistant staff counsel for the Florida Bar.

"It seems to me the Bar has a double standard," Yedwab grumbles, pointing out that the Bar has investigated other, more prominent lawyers while they were the subject of civil lawsuits. "When they want to proceed, they proceed. When they don't, they don't. What determines their decision, I don't really know."

Newman's response to the request for a curator was equally disappointing to Yedwab. The judge reluctantly agreed to name a curator, but he severely restricted the curator's scope of action, and ordered that the curator should do nothing until the guardian submitted a final accounting. (That section of Newman's order restricting the curator's activities was later overturned by the appeals court.)

In June 1995, Yedwab reported to the Dade State Attorney's Office his suspicions that Shirley Levinson had "embezzled" money. Prosecutors steered him to the Metro-Dade Police Department's Economic Crimes Bureau, where he filed a report accusing Levinson of grand theft. The police declined to investigate after deciding that the allegations were of a civil nature.

The case is now securely back in Newman's courtroom. In May a nonjury trial will be held on the challenges to Dora's will. A hearing on the amended accountings is scheduled for July. Yedwab's clients, however, say they doubt they'll receive a fair hearing. Rose Hodges recalls a hearing she attended last year at which Yedwab laid out his allegations of embezzlement. "Newman just seemed like he was indifferent to everything," she remembers. "Here's a judge listening to an entire rundown -- checks and monies that had been taken out of Dora's account. And the judge sat there listening with a half smile on his face.

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