Former judge accused of defrauding estates resigns from bar

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A one-time northern Indiana trial court judge who is accused in lawsuits of taking money from two estates in cases he represented has resigned from the Indiana bar rather than face disciplinary proceedings related to his misconduct.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday accepted the resignation of Monon lawyer Robert V. Monfort. In resigning, Monfort acknowledged that there was a Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission proceeding alleging misconduct and that he could not successfully defend himself if prosecuted.

Montfort, who once presided as a Jasper Superior Court judge, has not been criminally charged, but lawsuits filed on behalf of charities in Rensselaer allegt he and/or his law office misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars that a deceased widow bequeathed to community charities.The commission filed a disciplinary complaint April 27 accusing Monfort of criminal acts and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” among a litany of other ethical charges.

The discipline case against Monfort arises from two estate matters he handled that resulted in litigation in Jasper Superior Court against him and his law firm.

In one case, charities that stood to benefit from an elderly widow’s estate accuse Monfort of undue influence over Rose Jennette Nagel that “resulted in more than $600,000 in damages” to a Catholic school and the Jasper Newton Foundation, which the suit says stood to benefit from her bequests. The suit also makes claims of negligence and improper estate administration, and contests Nagel’s probated will that would have instead left her estate to an employee in Monfort’s office who also had served as personal representative for Nagel’s estate.

Monfort also is accused of attorney misconduct in handling the estate of Anthony Kaczorowski, who died intestate in 2014. Among other things, the commission says as recently as 2019, Monfort swore an affidavit that Kaczorowski had no known heirs, which he knew to be false. The commission likewise levels allegations of criminal conduct and fraud in Monfort’s handling of that case.

The commission alleged Monfort consumed nearly all of the $114,000 in Kaczorowski’s liquid estate assets through estate administration expenses, inappropriate fees and“unjustified payments to respondent and his office staff,” and more.

Meanwhile, Monfort faces one other civil lawsuit alleging professional negligence in his office’s handling of a third estate case, that of John Garling. Garling’s estate alleges, among other things, that the case dragged on for more than five years while a personal representative appointed at Monfort’s request caused assets to be dissipated and “may have taken certain assets for his own personal use.”

The suit also alleges a house belonging to Garling’s estate was sold for an amount significantly below fair market value.

Monfort was judge of Jasper Superior Court 2 from 1994-2000. The Indiana General Assembly dissolved the court, a decision affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2000.

Monfort, who was admitted to the bar in 1988, was previously suspended for 30 days with automatic reinstatement for helping a client in 2009 who previously had been a defendant in a drunken-driving case in which Monfort had presided as judge.

The disciplinary case is In the Matter of: Robert V. Monfort, 20S-DI-284.

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