By Alan Sorensen
OK. Were listless this week. Lets get write to it.
On Oct. 26, erstwhile Havre lawyer Mr. Mort Goldstein and his lawyer are going to go before the Montana Supreme Court to argue that the Commission on Practices that brought the disbarment recommendation against him is unconstitutional. This appears to be nothing more than a delaying tactic, since the Commission on Practices has already done its job and the Supreme Court has taken control of the disbarment case.
For those of you who dont remember, a Hill County jury found that Goldstein used undue influence to take control of the estate of Kenneth G. Axvig, an aged Hi-Line farmer, whom it considered mentally incompetent. To make a long story short, lets just say that more than $1 million disappeared from Axvigs estate during the 20 months Goldstein had control of it. Much of that money disappeared during the 11 months after Axvig died.
Goldstein has used delaying tactics before, including a federal bankruptcy court petition. By filing bankruptcy, Goldstein was able to stop all state court action against him for a time.
Several things struck me as incongruous and disingenuous about Goldsteins petition. One was that Goldstein showed a sizable income something in the range of $7,500 per month while claiming he was broke.
Another was Goldsteins claim that I and my newspaper accounts of the estate trial caused him to lose about $150,000 in business. Oddly enough, he testified in trial that he lost about that same amount of business because he devoted so much time to Axvig. I guess that sometimes you can have it both ways.
Another of Goldsteins delaying tactics, perhaps intended even as belaying tactic, was to resign his attorney membership. It was an action state officials have indicated should have no effect on the disbarment process.
A couple other questions I have, questions Im sure others have asked, are, Why hasnt Mr. Goldstein been charged with a crime and why isnt he in jail?
That, to me, is the real rub, and heres why.
In one instance, years ago, a Havre teen-ager ended up in prison for accepting a few thousand dollars (some in pay for housework she did and some in gifts) from an old man. The old man, I was told back then, drove, ate out, wrote his own checks on his own bank account, and gave the girl money at his discretion.
Im not saying that she didnt do some wheedling, but some of us would call that the price a man pays for making a fool of himself. I should know, Ive done it often enough. Pawn shop shelves are littered with TV sets and VCRs I gave to women who bewitched me.
The point is, in this case, that the girl was convicted of a felony, sent to prison, and ordered to pay restitution. She paid her debt to society and the restitution (about $20,000). Today, she is leading a law-abiding and productive life.
In the other instance, Goldstein, a lawyer, wasnt even charged with a crime after bilking the estate of an incapacitated old man who couldnt drive himself anywhere and was incapable of writing his own checks.
The judge who heard Goldsteins case with its sundry turns and twists called Goldsteins actions egregious.
County Attorney David Rice told me the other day that the burden of proof for a criminal case is greater than that required for a civil case.
In the civil case in which the Havre jury took away Goldsteins sovereignty over the Axvig estate, the jury merely had to find a preponderance of evidence that Goldstein had no right to the estate. In a criminal case, Rice said, the jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Goldstein had committed a crime.
When dealing with prices, fees and costs, Rice said, it is almost impossible to determine that a crime has been committed. Would it be a crime for someone to charge me $300 for a new windshield while charging someone else just $100 for the same windshield? I might think so, but the glazier would probably insist that it was just good business.
In Goldsteins case, was it a crime for him to squander more than $1 million from Axvigs estate, or was it just good business on his part? And was it illegal or merely unethical for Goldstein to write a will for Axvig that disinherit Axvigs only child and gave Goldstein 50 percent of the estate?
You dont know how glad I am that Im approaching old age not just in extreme poverty, but in extreme debt. I have even less than nothing for vultures to pick at.